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October 25, 2011

New study shows job loss in fishery

The first year of Northeast groundfishing with the industry operating as a commodities market saw catch shares shifting from the smaller boats and businesses to the better capitalized ones, the NOAA Science Center confirmed in a new report issued Tuesday.

Allocations exceeded catch totals in the three smallest vessel size categories, while — in the category of the biggest boats — catch exceeded allocation, constituting a "broad shift" of catch shares into the largest and wealthiest hands, according to the team of nine social scientists who crafted their final report on the groundfishery.

The authors also reported seeing signs of port transformation.

"Retail and service sector employment likely expanded at the expense of groundfishing harvesting jobs and supporting businesses," they wrote.

With the system favoring larger scale businesses, crew members reported "lower income under sector management," the scientists reported.

In Essex County — primarily Gloucester — 19 crew positions were lost from 2009 to 2010, while, over four years, 44 fishing jobs vanished. Similar declines were found across New England, according to the report.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry Tuesday praised the study for illustrating the harm to mom-and-pop businesses by industry trends "abetted by federal policies," and said the report builds a path toward an economic disaster declaration.

He also highlighted the finding in the report that showed 20 percent of the boats with nearly 80 percent of the groundfish revenues — up from 68 percent in 2009.

A highlight of the study — data showing prices paid for groundfish were higher across the board — was mitigated in the context of huge commodity price increases on a global scale.

Even with the addition of the data on internal trading transactions to their earlier interim study of September, the authors cautioned repeatedly that the picture of what happened to the New England fishing industry in the first year of Amendment 16, ended April 30, is far from complete.

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