GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 19, 2011

Fishery report cites widening trade deficit

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

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.

The meeting next week of the New England Fishery Management Council, an arm of NMFS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, takes up issues of fleet diversity and quota accumulation caps, and could zero in on the degree of engineered consolidation and job loss.

The goal of the Obama administration's head of NOAA, Jane Lubchenco, has been to see a "sizeable fraction" of the fleet removed from service in the transformation of the commonly held wild resource into tradeable shares.

But a growing number of critics — including members of New England's congressional delegations — wonder at the wisdom of a policy that eliminates jobs and concentrates control.

Congress earlier this year barred new catch share roll outs through the end of the 2011 spending cycle, Sept. 30.

The Environmental Defense Fund, which has led the campaign for catch shares, is gearing up to fight the renewal of the amendment which was sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, and Massachusetts democratic congressmen John Tierney and Barney Frank, among others.

Massachusetts' landings in 2010 were 282 million pounds, down 21 percent from 2009 — and only 43 percent of the 649 million pounds landed in 1948, when Gloucester was the world's busiest fishing port and state landings were at a historic high.

Seafood consumption per capita in the U.S. dropped slightly from 16.0 pounds a year to 15.8, but imports continued to increase, from 82 percent of seafood consumed to 86 percent. But some portion of the imports were caught by American fishermen, exported, typically to Chinese processors before being frozen and shipped to domestic companies for value added processing, refreezing, packaging and shipping.

Shrimp represented $4.3 million of imports, while salmon was next in value, at $1.7 billion.

China's seafood exports to the US. were valued at $2.4 billion; next highest in value of exports to the U.S. were Canada and Thailand, $2.3 billion each.

Almost half the imported seafood, the report said, comes from aquaculture or farmed seafood.

Aquaculture outside the U.S. has expanded dramatically in the last three decades and now supplies the world with half its seafood demand, according to the United National Food and Agriculture Organization.

"America's aquaculture industry, though vibrant and diverse, currently meets less than 5 percent of U.S. seafood demand..." it stated.

"While we are turning a corner on ending overfishing on wild stocks, this report shows the need for U.S. aquaculture to grow and complement wild fisheries," said Schwaab.

New Bedford ranked first in value of landings for the 11th consecutive year, while Dutch Harbor-Unalaska, Alaska ranked first in volume of landings, mostly pollock, for the 22nd straight year.

Along with New Bedford (first) and Gloucester (12th), also ranked within the top 50 ports in value of landings were six other ports within the region.

There were: Stonington, Maine, 17th, with landings valued at $45.3 million; Point Judith, R.I., 25th, $32.2 million; Provincetown-Chatham, 42nd, $19.9 million; Portland, Maine, 43rd, $18.8 million; Montauk, N.Y., 45th, $17.7 million; and Boston, 49th, $15.1 million.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act, which was approved in 1976, set the U.S.'s exclusive economic zone at 200 miles and committed the nation to creating a sustainable fishery.

The year 2010 was widely considered the year the nation's fisheries became largely sustainable although many species remain technically overfished or subject to overfishing. The 2006 reauthorization of Magnuson required annual catch limits on all overfished species, along with penalties for violations.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3446, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.