Fish landings down but New Bedford still nation's richest port

NEW BEDFORD — New Bedford once again reeled in the most money of any fishing port in the country last year, despite a decline in volume, thanks to high scallop prices.
The city’s port ranked No. 1 in dollar amount in 2010, landing $306 million worth of fish, a 23 percent increase over the year before. New Bedford has taken the top place in value for 11 straight years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Wednesday.
“I’m very proud the port maintains the No. 1 ranking,” Mayor Scott W. Lang said. “It’s a tremendous economic engine for the city and the region. Not only do you have the individuals working directly on the vessels themselves, but you have all the people who support the vessels and the processors who process the fish.”
At the same time, the city slipped from eighth to ninth place for the amount of fish landed. Its landings fell from 170 million pounds to 133.4 million, according to the report. It had landed 146.4 million pounds in 2008.
Lang blamed the federal government’s catch share rules for the decline in volume and said he would continue to press for relief from the restrictions.
The port of Dutch Harbor in Unalaska, Alaska, maintained the top ranking for volume for the 22nd consecutive year. It landed 515.2 million pounds of fish, primarily pollock, up from 506.3 million in 2009.
“These increases in fish landings and value are good news for our nation’s fishermen and for fishing communities, where jobs depend on healthy fish stocks,” said Eric Schwaab, assistant NOAA administrator for the agency’s fisheries service, in a statement. “We know fishermen are making sacrifices now to rebuild fish populations, and these efforts, combined with good science and management, support sustainable jobs for Americans.”
New Bedford enjoyed an increase in values thanks to the per-pound price of its most lucrative catch, sea scallops, which shot up 28 percent. Sea scallops account for 22 percent of the city’s volume but 77 percent of the value of landings, NOAA reported.
Compared with the skyrocketing price of sea scallops, overall food prices were up 1.5 percent in December 2010 from the year before, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“It’s always nice to be the No. 1 port dollar-wise in the nation,” said Richie Canastra, co-owner of Whaling City Seafood Display Auction on the city’s waterfront. “It gives us that recognition.”
Canastra said there is a strong global appetite for scallops. New Bedford exports 30 percent to 40 percent of its scallops to other countries, he said.
While the city’s top ranking is good news, Canastra said fishermen are bringing in just over a third of their allowable catch. He said they could be catching more fish, but areas that should be open to fishing remain closed.
The decline in volume helps drive up the prices but hurts consumers, who are more likely to buy imported fish to save money, he said.
“It’s hitting the pocketbooks for consumers locally and throughout the United States,” he said.
September 08, 2011 12:00 AM
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