New Bedford top money fishing port in America

By Dan McDonald

NEW BEDFORD — The city is No. 1, again. For the 10th consecutive year, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, New Bedford is ranked first in the nation in revenue gained from fish landings.

The stats are based on calendar year 2009 numbers, when the value of fish landings was estimated to be $249.2 million, nearly $90 million more than the second-ranked port, Dutch Harbor-Unalaska, Alaska, which pulled in $159.7 million worth of catch that year.

The city saw the value of its catch increase by almost $8 million from 2008.

New Bedford, meanwhile, ranked eighth in terms of pounds of landings with 170 million in 2009. That figure was up from 146.4 million in 2008. Dutch Harbor-Unalaska ranked first in that category with 506.3 million in 2009.

Fishermen and government officials alike attribute the city’s cash haul to the scalloping industry.

“It’s the most significant fishery in terms of value per pound,” said Monica Allen, spokeswoman for NOAA Fisheries Service.

NOAA culls the statistics from the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program, which is a state and federal partnership that records landings, said Allen.

Nationwide, the total domestic commercial landings for 2009 were 7.9 billion pounds, valued at $3.9 billion. Those numbers represent a decrease from 2008, when the volume reached 8.3 billion pounds, with a value of $4.4 billion, according to NOAA. Accounting for most of the decrease was a decline in landings of both pollock and Pacific whiting, said Allen in an e-mail.

Locally, statements of pride mixed with frustration regarding the effects of regulation on the groundfish industry on Wednesday.
Richard Canastra, owner of the New Bedford Display Auction, said “We’re proud to be the No. 1 port in the nation, but volume is what creates jobs.”

In 2009, said Canastra, the city was only “at 20 percent of our total allowable catch in groundfish.”

The 2009 numbers are “a reflection of consumers paying more money for fish and scallops,” he said.

“You’re going to see that again in 2010,” said Canastra.

Robert Vanasse, executive director of The Project to Save Seafood and Ocean Resources, said he would like to see a 2009 monetary breakdown of scallops and groundfish landed in New Bedford.

He said the numbers “show again how incredibly important this industry is to the New Bedford and New England economy.”

Like Canastra, Jim Kendall, of New Bedford Seafood Consulting, also pointed to the government’s role in the stagnancy of the local groundfish industry.

“We are still losing boat after boat after boat due to unfair restrictions,” he said.

The numbers, said Kendall, show “we are really working hard in the industry to maintain our role as a top dollar port.”

“The vast majority of the dollars, however, comes from scallops and that’s unfortunate because our groundfish should be playing a big role but, because of the regulations, it’s unable to,” said Kendall.

The city, said New Bedford Mayor Scott W. Lang, “has always been defined by its relationship with the sea.”

Lang said the ranking continues to give the city clout as it fights against NOAA regulations in federal court. A status hearing is scheduled for today in Boston for that suit. The city is among the plaintiffs who are challenging a switch to commercial fisheries sector management and catch shares.

“It’s important — it means we’re able to maintain this pulpit. Being the No. 1 fishery port gives us the stature to argue these regulations have to be based on science,” said Lang. “We’re not going to rest on our laurels or be content.”
September 09, 2010 12:00 AM

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