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January 2, 2013

NOAA study shows shrinking fleet

The NOAA Fisheries Science Center has published an analysis of the 2011 Northeast groundfishery — the second year of catch share trading activity and the last year of optimism in a fishery that has descended into a recognized “disaster.”

And the report acknowledges the size of the fleet diminishing while the “economic performance” of the survivors “has generally improved.”

But two independent analysts, from the Northeast Seafood Coalition and the School of Marine Science and Technology at University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, see evidence of discouraging trends in the Science Center report. The coalition cited volatility and a researcher for the so-called SMAST program said the report shows troubling signs of uneven distribution of revenues.

The annual report on the groundfishery found the size of the fleet in 2011 to be 9.1 percent smaller than 2009, the last year before the industry was re-engineered into a two-tiered system — fishing cooperatives buying, selling, leasing, and trading quota in catch shares, and a small common pool of boats operating independently under the old days-at-sea limits.

The new report shows that Gloucester suffered the most extreme loss in active vessels from 2009 to 2011 — a drop of 29 percent, from 98 to 70, including a loss of five boats from 2010 to 2011 after a wider initial collapse.

Among the 1,279 boats working in the catch share system in 2011 — 103 fewer than in 2010, and 152 fewer than in 2009 — the report found that overall gross revenues for the survivors in 2011 was $121.5 million, compared to $105 million in 2010, and compared to $110.6 million in 2009.

But those figures do not take into account, as the science center acknowledges, the cost of leasing quota -- the central change in the industry model base on catch share trading.

Virtually all the common pool boats were kept out of the commodity market by the lack of an allocation of catch shares, determined by the catch history of their permits.

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