2015-03-19 / News

Harbor board gives fisherman break

By Margo Sullivan

A commercial fisherman has won his appeal to continue renting dock space at the Fort Getty pier, but the victory came at a price. He will have to pay the overdue fees, the Harbor Management Commission decided at its March 11 meeting.

Police Chief Ed Mello had previously issued a decision to ban resident Joseph Pinheiro from using the pier. Part of the reason, he said, was because Pinheiro left his tuna boat parked on town land without permission.

Mello told Pinheiro he could appeal the decision to the commissioners.

However, Commissioner William Harsch said the harbor board did not have any jurisdiction over the abandoned boat. Ultimately, the commissioners opted to deal strictly with the matter of unpaid fees.

Prior to Mello’s decision, the chief said he made a payment arrangement with Pinheiro due to hardship. Although town policy requires commercial fishermen to pay for the entire season in advance, he allowed Pinheiro to pay installments.

“The chief granted you an extension, and you failed to pay,” Chairman David Cain told Pinheiro.

The fees for the tuna boat had been paid through Jan. 6, said Pinheiro, who lives on Beacon Avenue. However, he also had another boat, which was in arrears.

“I’ll write you a check tonight,” he said.

Pinheiro removed the tuna boat from the pier in November due to a storm because the ordinance requires boat owners to take vessels off the dock during bad weather. However, in the process of removing the boat, the trailer broke, he said. Pinheiro hired a professional to help, but bad weather prevented the contractor from completing the task.

Mello said Pinheiro was working with a boat hauler and had extenuating circumstances. However, the chief argued that the fisherman had showed “a lack of concern to resolve the matter” until receiving a notice about the ban. The chief also told the commissioners that the town didn’t have any “leverage” to compel Pinheiro to move the boat. Therefore, he approached the harbor board about the matter.

But Harsch said he was tired of seeing Mello waste the commission’s time. As the police chief, Mello had all the authority he needed to make Pinheiro to move the boat.

Mello’s letter, which was dated Jan. 12, also accused Pinheiro of falsely indicating the boat was a commercial vessel. He notified Pinheiro that his impending aquaculture permit would be in jeopardy. Mello said he would inform the state coastal council of his “position, as this may adversely impact your pending application.”

Mello said the application had included information about where the boat would be docked, and Pinheiro had indicated it would be at the Fort Getty pier. Mello said he would not give Pinheiro any permits in the future, either for commercial or recreational use.

In his appeal, Pinheiro said he was being falsely accused and the punishment seemed too harsh. In fact, he said, the tuna boat is a commercial vessel, and he holds a commercial fishing license.

“It is an offshore fishing boat,” he said. Pinheiro also indicated he has “receipts to prove” the boat was being used commercially.

“I didn’t falsely misrepresent the boat to achieve a lower rate,” he said.

Commissioner Ed McGuirl said the commercial fishing license would suffice as proof that the boat was used commercially.

Town Administrator Andy Nota, who attended the meeting, asked if the commercial fishing rules require the catch to be associated with a specific boat. McGuirl said they do.

In addition to dock fees, Mello said the town would seek payment for storage, since the boat was sitting on town property for several months. Although the town could have seized the boat and removed it, Mello thought the penalty was too severe.

Pinheiro said no one else is ever charged to park a boat on land at Fort Getty.

“What boat has ever been stored at Fort Getty in the winter?” Commissioner Patrick Bolger asked. “No boat.”

Pinheiro paid for the dock for the whole year, but Mello insisted the fee does not include any storage on land.

“I had financial difficulties,” Pinheiro said.

“You guys don’t see behind the scenes of what my family is going through,” said Justin Pinheiro, the fisherman’s brother. He described the situation, and said his brother was hard working, supported his family, and did not spend any money on himself.

“What if the debt was paid?” Commissioner Joseph McGrady asked.

Cain asked if McGrady wanted to grant the appeal with conditions. If so, Commissioner Clifford Kurz said he would support granting the appeal conditionally.

Harsch said he thought the decision might be a “slippery slope” for the panel.

Ultimately, the harbor commissioners voted unanimously to grant the appeal, on the condition Pinheiro pay $1,635 by the close of business on March 13.

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