Aquinnah backs Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole

Selectmen agree, Woods Hole is essential location for marine studies.

Town administrator Jeffrey Madison, left, and selectmen chairman Gary Haley and selectman Jim Newman review a letter letter from Falmouth selectmen to assistant secretary of commerce Timothy Gallaudet. - Lucas Thors

Aquinnah selectmen agreed on Wednesday to duplicate a copy of a letter sent by the Falmouth board of selectmen to a federal official regarding the importance of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole.

In 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began assessing the feasibility of relocating the Woods Hole Laboratory (WHL) to an outside location. The Woods Hole branch manages operations of four other fisheries laboratories in the northeast — Sandy Hook, N.J.; Milford, Conn.; Narragansett, R.I.; and Orono, Maine.

According Teri Frady, chief of research communications for NOAA, the move may have brought the fisheries operations closer together.

Frady said, as of now, NOAA does not plan on relocating the Woods Hole Laboratory. That may make the town’s letter moot. “We determined this to be the best location for the laboratory. It has been here since the 60’s and will continue to serve as a central location for marine studies,” she said. “There is no threat of terminating operations in the area.” Frady said the NOAA routinely asseses individual fisheries, and it is possible the administration may decide to relocate in the future.

The fisheries center was founded by Spencer Fullerton Baird after his appointment by President Ulysses S. Grant as the country’s first fisheries commissioner in 1871. The original facility was built on Water Street in 1885. After the facility was destroyed during Hurricane Carol, the current building was constructed in the same location in 1961.

Selectman Jim Newman said he was “blown away” by the idea of relocating the center. “We have some of the most prestigious oceanographic institutions in the world here,” he said.

Town administrator Jeffrey Madison took the opportunity to express his distaste for the Trump administration and its attitude toward environmental policy. “I acknowledge that Mr. Trump has more knowledge of science than all the scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution put together,” he added sarcastically. “We should all be grateful for the new policies that are being developed in the areas of environmental science and climate change and renewable energy.”

The letter to the assistant secretary of commerce Tim Gallaudet states: “as elected officials of the Cape and Islands communities, local scientific institution leaders, and business leaders we are writing to urge you to keep the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole.”

NOAA employs about 275 people in Woods Hole and, according to the letter, the “vast majority” of them have families and homes on Cape Cod and the Islands. “Uprooting these families and moving these jobs off the Cape will devastate our local communities and have a significant negative impact on our economy,” the letter states.

NOAA is not only a scientific asset to the Cape and Islands, according to the letter, it is a robust economic driver for all 23 towns. “Like Harvard and MIT in Cambridge, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Marine Biological Laboratory of Woods Hole, the Woods Hole Research Center and the NOAA Fisheries benefit from scientific collaboration that is a direct result of being close neighbors.”

A recent Business Case Analysis report on the Woods Hole Area Northeast Marine Fisheries Science Center states the Woods Hole Laboratory is an “indispensable facility” for meeting the organization’s needs.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is also headquartered in Woods Hole, which allows for synergy between the scientific entities with similar goals. The letter states “This would allow NOAA Fisheries to more efficiently use federal dollars by cost sharing services with USGS on operations like security, transportation, and maintenance while keeping the facility in the world hub for ocean science in Woods Hole.”

“For decades, the Woods Hole community has embraced and supported the vital work of NOAA Fisheries, and, in turn, NOAA has enriched the scientific and economic ecosystem of Cape Cod. We urge NOAA fisheries to continue this mutually beneficial relationship by remaining in Woods Hole.”