Fish landings decline, worth climbs

·3 min read

May 26—Still only at the doorstep of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, the U.S. commercial seafood industry suffered through a flat year, with the volume and value of the nation's commercial landings declining incrementally from 2018.

The annual Fisheries of the United States report from NOAA Fisheries stated total U.S. landings fell 0.8% to 9.3 billion pounds and the value of that landed catch declined by 2% to $5.5 billion in 2019.

Gloucester and Massachusetts joined the the remainder of coastal New England in largely mirroring the national commercial seafood trends in 2019 of flat or declining landings.

But value often was a different story.

America's oldest commercial seaport landed 50 million pounds of seafood in 2019 — down 15% from 59 million pounds in 2018.

Gloucester, however, made the most of its landings, recording a 7.5% increase in value to $57 million from $53 million in 2018.

The disparity was just as striking in the collective performance of Massachusetts commercial fishing ports.

Bay State ports in 2019 landed 234 million pounds of seafood (down 2.9%), but turned those landings into a record value of $679.3 million.

The previous record of $649.7 million was set in 1948.

The reason for the disparity can be found in what NOAA Fisheries characterized as the "highest value species groups."

Those groups include two huge seafood money-generators for Massachusetts — lobsters and scallops.

In 2019, American lobsters (Homarus americanus) accounted for $628.7 million in value — up 1% — even though landings declined 14% from the previous year.

Massachusetts, with Gloucester as its chief landing port, again ranked second nationally in harvesting lobster, generating $93.1 million in value off landings of 16.7 million pounds.

Together with Maine, Massachusetts accounts for 93% of all landed American lobsters.

U.S. landings of bay and sea scallops reached 60.8 million pounds in 2019 (up 4%) with a value of $572 million — an increase of 6%. Virtually all of those landings were sea scallops (60.7 million pounds) that represented $569.9 million in value.

The value of sea scallops has been the engine driving the continued economic dominance of the port of New Bedford, which ranked No.1 nationally in landings value for the 20th consecutive year, according to the report.

Other takeaways from the Fisheries of the United States 2019 report:

* Gloucester ranked 18th nationally in volume of landings (50 million pounds), but rose to No. 15 in 2019 in landings value ($57 million) from No. 22 in 2018.

* In New England, 2019 commercial landings declined 14.9% to 486.8 million pounds, but the value of those landings increased 1.9% to $1.4 billion.

* Maine suffered a 32.3% decline in the volume of its seafood landings to 154.5 million pounds, while the value of those landings dropped 1.6% to $577.9 million.

* The Atlantic region generated the highest U.S. landings value in 2019. It accounted for 13% of all U.S. commercial landings, but 39% of the nation's landings value. Alaska had the highest percentage of U.S. landings (60%) and trailed only the Atlantic region with 32% of U.S. landings value.

* The average ex-vessel price for American lobsters was $5 a pound, up from $4.27 in 2018.

* The average ex-vessel price of sea scallops was $9.39 in 2019, up from $9.20 in 2018.

* Commercial haddock landings were up 33% in 2019 to 19.2 million pounds and the value of those landings rose 42% to $18.9 million.

* North Atlantic pollock landings increased 3% to 7 million pounds and the value of the catch increased 10% to $524,000.

* Landings of yellowtail flounder dropped 8% to 907,000 pounds. That is 57% lower than the stock's five-year average.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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