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September 19, 2011

Fishery report cites widening trade deficit

In the fourth decade of the nation's epic and largely successful effort to reverse centuries of overfishing, 2010 commercial fishing landings and revenues in U.S. ports increased, but the nation continues to import the vast majority of its seafood.

These are among the core findings in the annual report, Fisheries of the United States 2010, by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which was released earlier this month.

Among other findings, the 2010 report shows:

China was the leading exporter of seafood to the U.S.

The U.S. imported 86 percent of domestic consumption.

With imports valued at $14.8 billion, and exports of $4.4 billion, the trade deficit in seafood was $10.4 billion, an increase of just over $1 billion.

New Bedford remained the top port in value of landings, due to its proximity to the scallop beds of Georges Bank; New Bedford was ninth nationally in weight of the catch landed.

Gloucester ranked 12th in value of landings, 15th in weight of the catch.

New Bedford's boats were paid $306 million for landings in 2010, an increase of $56.8 million from 2009.

Gloucester's boats were paid $56.6 million for landings, an increase of $6.2 million.

Although New Bedford's landings were almost six times more valuable than Gloucester's, the volume landed — 133 million pounds — was not twice as large as Gloucester's 88 million pounds.

A report due in November on the economics of U.S. fisheries will contain the first hard numbers on the number of boats and fishermen working.

Overall, America's dwindling fleets landed 8.2 billion pounds of seafood, an increase of 200 million, and were paid $4.5 billion, an increase of $600 million.

"These increases in fish landings and value are good news for our nation's fishermen and for fishing communities, where jobs depend on health fish stocks," NMFS administrator Eric Schwaab said in a prepared statement.

The upwardly trending numbers for the New England ports mask a region in turmoil and radical transition, adapting to a regulatory regimen based on hard catch limits, commodity trading of quota and a restructuring of the business model from independent operators to fishing cooperatives known as sectors.

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