The recent release of Fisheries of the United States 2012, a NOAA annual report, contains a lot of good information on revenues and landings for the nation’s fisheries.
The majority of fish stocks in the Northeast are not overfished. As a result, we have some of the most valuable fisheries in the country.
In the Northeast, some stocks, like cod and yellowtail flounder, which faced heavy fishing in the past, now find their ability to reproduce and grow affected by environmental factors. But, other stocks are thriving.
And because these stocks are healthy, they are leading to more fishing-related jobs and healthy working waterfront communities.
However, to create a profitable fishery, a healthy fish stock is just one part of the equation. The other part is developing markets for fishery products so that fishermen get a higher price for the fish they catch.
There is no better example of a fishery where both elements of this equation are present than Atlantic sea scallops.
In 1993, sea scallop stocks were in rough shape, not unlike some key groundfish stocks are today.
When large areas of the ocean were closed to scallop harvesting, collaborative research between fishermen and scientists from NOAA Fisheries and the University of Massachusetts and the adoption of an innovative management approach were key to the stock’s recovery.
Fishermen and managers embraced the concept of area management. Some areas are closed to protect growing scallops. These areas are reopened when scallops reach a size where they have had a chance to reproduce so they help to sustain the stock and can command a higher price from retailers.
Today, the Atlantic sea scallop fishery is a model for sustainability and among the most valuable in the country. Largely due to scallops, New Bedford, Massachusetts, remains the Nation’s top fishing port in money generated from fish products ($559 million) for the 13th straight year. For comparison, commercial groundfish vessels earned less than $70 million from groundfish catch in 2012. As scallop catches increased so did the price. Today retailers can pay as much as $15 a pound, whereas in the 1950s retailers paid on average less than a dollar a pound.
Summer flounder is another success story. Managers developed a stock rebuilding program in 2000. Under sound management and the right environmental conditions, the stock recovered two years earlier than expected.
While summer flounder supports both commercial and recreational fisheries, the lion’s share of the money generated comes from the recreational fishery. In 2006, anglers spent an estimated $234.1 million fishing for summer flounder along the Atlantic coast. Beyond the economic benefits, the recreational fishery provides the experience of friends and family enjoying themselves on the ocean.
Understandably due to the severe economic hardship imposed on many fishing families, groundfish captures the news headlines about the Northeast. However, there have been and will continue to be many management successes.
Under the requirements of Federal fisheries law, U.S. fisheries are among the best managed in the world.
And, while the future does present some challenges and may require a shift in focus for some, it also provides opportunities.
John Bullard is chief Northeast Regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries.