New England Fisheries

NOAA Releases Stats on U.S. Fishing

Photo credit: Joachim S. Mueller.

NOAA Fisheries released two reports last week on U.S. commercial and recreational fishing: 1) Fisheries of the United States, 2017 and 2) Fisheries Economics of the United States, 2016. The Fisheries of the United States report provides information on commercial landings and value as well as recreational catch, and the Fisheries Economics report analyzes the economic impact of U.S. fisheries.

At the national scale, U.S. fisheries have continued their positive trend. In 2017, commercial fishermen landed 9.9 billion pounds of fish and shellfish valued at $5.4 billion, a 3.6% and 2.1% increase from 2016, respectively. And in 2016, commercial and recreational fisheries in the U.S. supported $212 billion in sales and 1.7 million jobs.

New England Highlights

New England’s fishing ties date back to colonial times, and it’s clear that fishing is still an integral part of the cultural and economic backbone of the region.

Regarding the value of commercial landings by state, Massachusetts ($605.3 million) and Maine ($511.3 million) ranked second and third, respectively, in the nation. And for the 18th consecutive year, New Bedford, MA ($389 million) was the most valuable port in the U.S., despite only ranking third for volume of landings. New Bedford’s reliance on sea scallops accounts for most of this value; in fact, 57% of U.S. sea scallop landings in 2017 were caught in Massachusetts. Furthermore, in terms of economic impact, New England’s commercial and recreational fisheries supported $8.7 billion in sales and 97,000 jobs in 2016.

Opportunities and Need for Improvement

It’s important to note that these numbers provide only a snapshot of U.S. and New England fisheries. The fact of the matter is that New England still has more overfished stocks than all other regions combined. Atlantic cod – New England’s most iconic species – has been overfished in New England for nearly three decades. The Fisheries of the United States report highlights the importance of managers and scientists having access to reliable data to make informed decisions and understand stock health, but this data is inherently lacking for cod and the groundfish fishery as a whole.

Unfortunately, New England’s oldest fishery is plagued with a lack of accountability at-sea. The key part of the problem is insufficient monitoring coverage onboard vessels. Currently, target monitoring coverage is set at only 15% for groundfish sector trips, and actual monitoring levels are trending even lower, creating an environment where rampant illegal discarding of cod without any consequences – except for the struggling fish stocks that is – has become the norm.

Thankfully, the New England Fishery Management Council is developing Amendment 23 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, which is intended to improve the groundfish monitoring program. Though the Amendment has faced significant delays since it was initiated in September 2016, the Council has set it has a top priority for 2019 – and it’s about time. At this point, given the state of the fishery, full accountability through 100% monitoring is the only acceptable solution.


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