GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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July 18, 2009

Economy still means low prices for fishermen

Local commercial groundfishermen and vessel owners have fish prices on their minds, besides the upcoming fisheries management of Amendment 16.

Why have the boat prices, even on "money fish" such as cod, haddock and grey sole, generally been low this year?

Capt. Billy "Brownie" Brown knows he has been gillnetting the same "market" and "large" or "steaker" size (fish weighing between 4 and 10 pounds to fish weighing more than 10 pounds, respectively) cod species this year that he has for decades.

But "their prices are down," said Brown.

He and Pete Shoares work Brown's gillnetter Gillian Anne, a part of Gloucester's day boat groundfish fleet that supplies the port with quality cod much of the year. Regulators prohibit these gillnetters, hook boats and draggers from each landing more than 800 pounds of cod a day. Abundant cod on the sand eel-infested Stellwagen Bank has dramatically shortened their fishing trips and also often resulted in cod landed to being just two to three hours old.

"Two summers ago, 'large' cod were worth between $2 and $3 per pound," Brown said. "Last summer, they brought the boat a buck to two bucks a pound. This summer, 'markets' have averaged around 85 cents per pound and 'large' cod around $1.10 per pound.

"We (the fishermen) saw $3.05 per pound for 'large' cod one time, only after a couple of blowy days," he added. "Phil (Powell of the F/V Foxy Lady II) and I were the only ones out then."

Other 'money fish'

Ricky Beal, who skippers the inshore Gloucester dragger Horizons, has been targeting other traditional "money fish" — grey sole, monkfish, and haddock — besides cod this year, with similar findings.

"Their prices have been horrible," he said. "Small grey sole has been about a buck; it's normally about $2 per pound this time of year.

"I was on a boat that got $6 per pound for large grey sole in 1998," he recalled. "You can't get $3 per pound for them today."

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