GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Opinion

September 20, 2011

Editorial: Real fishery status lurks between lines of NMFS report

On the surface, the new 2010 numbers reported by the National Marine Fisheries Service paint a rosy picture of the commercial fishing industry.

After all, landings and commercial revenues were up — in Gloucester's case, by some $6.2 million, to $56.6 million overall. And, nationally, America's dwindling number of commercial fishing fleets brought in 8.2 billion pounds of seafood, an increase of 200 million, while being paid $4.5 billion, an increase of $600 million.

So all's well, right?

Wrong.

What's missing from the report, of course, is the number of fishermen and boats bringing in those landings under NOAA's Environmental Defense Fund-generated catch-share regulatory scheme.

Indeed, a report due in November on the economics of U.S. fisheries is expected to contain the first hard numbers on the number of boats and fishermen still working. And by all anecdotal data, those numbers will confirm that the catch-share system — which encourages fishermen to trade, lease or sell their allocated catch quota to larger businesses or outside investors — has concentrated more of the landings and revenue in the hands of those large-scale trawling operations while driving smaller, independent fishermen out of the industry — and taking a dire ongoing toll on fishing communities like Gloucester,

But even beyond that, one set of numbers that is included in the NOAA report tells the true tale of how the U.S. Commerce Department — the umbrella agency for NOAA and NMFS — has mishandled fishing's regulatory system.

For despite those increased landings and growing revenue for the lucky catch-share winners, the U.S. seafood deficit has continued to widen — With imports valued at $14.8 billion, and exports of $4.4 billion, a gap that grew by more than a $1 billion. And all of that comes as U.S. seafood consumption per capita dropped — albeit slightly — from 16 pounds a year to 15.8.

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