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Rhode Island casts economic net seaward in quest for prosperity

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Rhode Island is turning to the sea in an effort to boost the state's floundering economy. Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy's recent announcement that the state will guarantee $5 million in tax-exempt bonds for the construction at Galilee of what will become the state's largest fish-processing plant is but one of a series of state incentives aimed at promoting marine-related businesses in the Ocean State.

The processing plant will be constructed for the 125-member Point Judith Fishermen's Cooperative.

Point Judith is New England's third-largest fishing port after Gloucester and New Bedford, both in Massachusetts.

This November, state planners say a $3 million bond issue will be on a statewide referendum ballot. If it is passed, half the money will go to support the construction of new docking and other fishing facilities at Newport. The other $1.5 million is expected to go toward improving bulkheads and docks on the east side of Galilee port.

In addition, state officials are considering longer-term plans to develop a new fishing port in the state. Among sites under consideration is Quonset Point, the former Navy facility.

The Point Judith fish-processing plant project, expected to cost a total of $ 7 million, will permit the cooperative's fishermen for the first time to processes up to one-third of the fish they catch. The remaining two-thirds will be sold fresh.

In years past the majority of the Rhode Island catch was shipped to points along the Atlantic Coast from Boston to Virginia for processing. That meant an extra transportation cost to the fishermen of 6 to 10 cents per pound of fish.

Charles Follett, president of the cooperative, says the modern facility will make possible faster offloading of the catch at dockside, enabling 50 percent more fishing boats to use the facility.

This will give fishermen a faster ''turnaround'' time, enabling them to head more quickly back out to sea to catch more fish.

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