Gloucester is a city of tradition, including centuries of fishing history. But it's also a city of change, a change that you can see in Hollywood, of all places, from the early days of the film industry all the way to the most recent Academy Awards, where the Gloucester-set film “CODA” won Best Picture. As part of a series of interviews with new mayors in the state, GBH Morning Edition host Jeremy Siegel met up with Gloucester’s new mayor, Greg Verga, at a lunch spot across from city hall. The lifelong resident discussed the changing city and its relationship to film. This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Greg Verga: There have been a lot of movies filmed here — and other than "Captains Courageous" from the 1930s and “The Perfect Storm" from the early 2000s, [in] other movies, Gloucester was substituted in for something else, whether it was substituted for Alaska or some other imaginary community. "CODA" is Gloucester. The scenes for the most part were shot here and it's a story that a lot of people can relate to — you know, the scenes that deal with the Coast Guard boarding the boat. And then just the frustration of trying to sell your catch. That's all real and that's what people have to live with.

But the funny thing is, in "The Perfect Storm," one of the main characters of the movie was [the bar] The Crow's Nest. In that movie, it was a mockup of The Crow's Nest, it wasn't a real bar, they shot the scenes and they built it down on the waterfront. In "CODA," Pratty's is the bar by name in the movie and it was actually shot at Pratty's. So I think they're going to be in for a pretty good year because, I mean, The Crow's Nest still has people going in looking for swag related to "The Perfect Storm." So I think it's going to be a great year for Pratty's, the city as a whole and for Cape Ann as a whole.

Jeremy Siegel: How have you seen the city change since your childhood?

Verga: Oh, it's changed quite a bit — the city is a lot more diverse than it was when I was in elementary school. When the fishing industry was big, we had a lot of bars down along Main Street, and it was more hardcore, sort of like what was presented in "The Perfect Storm," that that type of thing. But we've diversified not only ethnically, we've diversified in terms of business.

The fishing industry was what carried Gloucester for 350-odd years — whether they were going out on boats or whether it was on shore, fish processing. But now we have high tech, we have Gloucester Genomics, more research. There's manufacturing. We've got some great companies — Cometeer is a really interesting one, people might want to check it out if you're into coffee. So that's how it's changed quite a bit. We're just not the same place on the one hand, but we are the same place that is still a tight community.

Siegel: You used the past tense when referring to the fishing industry a couple of times there, and we've been reporting on low catch numbers recently. The fishing industry was already struggling before the pandemic. From the mayor's office, from your point of view, what is the state of the industry, this industry that is so synonymous with Gloucester?

Verga: Right — it's our identity. I mean, you come into town, the first thing you see is “Gloucester, America's oldest seaport.” What I said through the campaign and I still say is, the fishing industry isn't dead, it's different. When I was a kid, there were hundreds of boats that were going out, catching tens of thousands of pounds every trip. It's much different [now] with the catch limits through the federal government, on the one hand, understandably so, because there was diminishing stock. But on the other hand, it's quite a burden on these guys trying to make a living — guys and gals trying to make a living out there at sea. So, maybe using past tense was probably not the most accurate way of putting it — it is different and it is something that we plan on being part of our community for the next 400 years.

"What I said through the campaign and I still say is, the fishing industry isn't dead, it's different."
-Gloucester Mayor Greg Verga

Siegel: The city has also made some big changes to its parking program for people headed to Gloucester's famed beaches this summer. It just took effect over this past weekend and requires online reservations in advance for out-of-towners on an app called Yodel. What can people expect?

Verga: So what we face every year, it's like clockwork, Memorial Day weekend, right through Labor Day — the traffic just gets bananas in Gloucester and it's primarily beach traffic. So what happens is people get up wherever they are, pick a town somewhere in the middle of Massachusetts, drive to Gloucester to go to the beach because they wake up and it's 80 degrees, and they just roll the dice hoping that when they reach the beach, there is a parking spot for them. And so if there's a parking spot, great. But many times there aren't parking spots. But the problem that's created is, you've got this line of cars that are all hoping to get a spot. So this year, we're doing online reservations, so you can get up in the morning if you think it's a nice day, you go on your phone, you go log in to the Yodel website and say, is there a spot available? Yes, there is. You pay your $35 for the weekend, plus a 30-cent convenience fee. And then you can just come to Gloucester at your leisure and there's a spot waiting.

Siegel: For someone who thinks of Gloucester as the place that they drive to to go to the beach, who thinks of it as the place featured in "CODA," but might not think about it much beyond that — what's one thing that you would want to highlight about your city?

Verga: It's a lot more than the fishing and the fishing heritage. Artists — we've got Edward Hopper, he painted a lot of just regular houses that still stand; the Cape Ann Museum, which is just two doors up from where we're sitting. I would urge anybody who's interested in the artistic history of Gloucester to visit the Cape Ann Museum online and then come here and visit in-person because it's a lot more than just fishing and it's also a lot more than paintings — we have sculptures, we have a great music scene here. I'm a musician myself. I think it's great that you can go out and find live music almost every night in the summertime. So it's a pretty holistic place to visit. There's just so much to do. So it's a place I love. I wouldn't think of living anywhere else except during the winter months when I get older.

Siegel: Mayor Verga, thank you so much for taking the time.

Verga: Thank you for having me.