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September 12, 2010

Fishing data shows $2.2 billion added to trade deficit

Despite unmatched natural assets, America's heavily-regulated fisheries continued to underperform in global competition, with landings down a bit more in 2009, according to the annual report of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Covering 2009, the findings reflect a two decade trend in which conservation has trumped productivity.

Landings in edible and commercial fish were down 6 percent to 7.9 billion pounds, and the value of the landings fell by 11 percent to $3.9 billion — adding up $2.2 billion to a federal season of trade deficit of more than $280 billion.

In 2009, the U.S. fishing system remained largely unchanged, with heavy and effective controls on fishermen's effort driving down landings but moving the nation's fisheries closer to sustainability, according to the NOAA study.

The effort controls focused on limiting fishermen's days at sea, and barring access to certain fishing grounds at different times of the year. All of the data in the report was compiled before this year's debut of the new catch share regulatory system throughout New England.

The New England groundfishery, however, took an 11 percent hit in 2009, with landings off $12.2 million to $101.1 million.

Again, thanks to scallops, New Bedford remained the No. 1 U.S. port in landings' value at $249.2 million from 170 million pounds. Gloucester also treaded water, holding the No. 11 spot in landings value at $50.4 million from 122 million pounds of mostly groundfish, low value herring, skates and dogfish.

Point Judith, R.I., ranked 20th in landings value and Portland, Maine, 46th.

The national decline in landings and value meant that the industry added $2.2 billion to the burgeoning trade deficit, which hit $289 billion this year.

Globally, in 2008, the last year cited in the NOAA report, landings — which count wild and farmed fish — increased by 1.7 percent, dominated by China, which produced 33 percent of global output. America ranks sixth in dollar value behind not only China but also India, Indonesia and Japan whose global market shares are around 5 percent, with the U.S. just below that level.

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