By Becky Evans
Standard-Times Staff Writer
New Bedford fishermen hauled in $281.2 million worth of seafood in 2006 to capture the title of the nation’s most valuable port for the seventh year in a row, according to a report released Thursday by NOAA Fisheries.
The city maintained its No. 1 ranking despite restrictive groundfish regulations that have kept fishermen from catching large amounts of high-value stocks such as cod, said Richard Canastra, co-owner of the Whaling City Seafood Display Auction.
“The scallop industry is doing well, but the groundfish fishery is having a hard time,” Mr. Canastra said.
Landings of sea scallops, lobster, ocean quahogs, flatfish, Atlantic mackerel and herring helped the Whaling City earn the top ranking in 2006 in terms of the dollar value of the catch, according to the report. Meanwhile, for the 18th consecutive year, Dutch-Harbor Unalaska held onto the No. 1 ranking in terms of overall seafood landings. The Alaskan port recorded a catch of 911.3 million pounds of seafood in 2006. In that category, New Bedford placed seventh with 169.9 million pounds of fish and shellfish.
In 2005, New Bedford landed 153.4 million pounds of seafood for a total value of $282.5 million.
How did the port land more seafood for less money in 2006?
Mr. Canastra said it has to do with groundfish regulations aimed at reviving depleted stocks of cod, yellowtail flounder and other fish that swim along the bottom of the ocean. The regulations forced fishermen to target low-value stocks instead of high-value stocks, he said. Instead of landing cod, which can sell for $2 per pound, fishermen caught lots of skate wings, which sell for around 40 cents per pound, he said.
As for the higher amount of landings, Mr. Canastra attributed it to the addition of Southern scallopers that fished out of New Bedford in 2006 to be closer to scallop fishing grounds.
Jim Kendall, a former scallop fishermen who now heads up New Bedford Seafood Consulting, blamed the $1.3 million drop in the value of New Bedford’s landings on a weak U.S. dollar in 2006.
When the dollar drops in value, market prices for seafood fall, too, he said, adding that this is good news for consumers but bad news for the industry.
Although the city’s groundfish fleet may be struggling, two new plants that harvest and process herring and mackerel are doing well and adding value to New Bedford’s seafood landings, Mr. Kendall said.
He noted that the $281.2 million in landings translates to about a $1 billion injection into the New Bedford economy when considering the contributions of shore-side seafood businesses.
The annual rankings are a source of pride for New Bedford fishermen and “a bellwether” of how their industry is faring, Mr. Kendall said.
“When you look at the tightening of regulations and management actions, to be able to hold onto that distinction of being the number one port means we are doing a lot of things right,” he said.
Contact Becky W. Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org
July 13, 2007
By Becky Evans