PORTLAND, Maine — Fishing vessels in the Northeast that catch haddock, cod and other groundfish earned more money during the first nine months of new commercial fishing regulations than the year before, even while their harvest fell, federal fishery officials said Thursday.
Revenues went up because fishermen received higher prices for their catches, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report comparing the first nine months of the 2010-11 fishing season, from May 1 to Dec. 31, with the same period in 2009.
For 2010, groundfish boats in the seven-state region from Maine to New Jersey caught 192.1 million pounds of groundfish and other seafood species, down 7 percent from the 2009 season. The catch of groundfish alone totaled 43.6 million pounds, down about 15 percent.
At the same time, fishing revenues rose nearly $24 million to $226.4 million. Groundfish revenues alone increased from $59.6 million to $62.3 million.
Fishermen received an average of $1.47 a pound for their groundfish, up from $1.20 a pound a year earlier.
NOAA officials said the higher revenues are a good sign for fishermen, but that it’s too early to credit them to sweeping new fishing regulations that went into effect May 1, 2010. Under the new management system, most fishermen are divided into groups, called sectors, and given shares of an allotted catch of each species.
The system is designed to give fishermen flexibility to react to the market as species rebuild, but some fishermen say the allotments are too low and are killing the industry.
“There’s some good news in the report, and some news that I think people will take as being not-so-good news,” said Frank Almeida, acting director of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Falmouth, Mass. “We’re reluctant to make any general statements about whether sectors are working or not based on this interim report.”
Critics of the new “catch-share” management system have said it will consolidate the industry, with small-boat owners being squeezed out.
According to the report, the top-earning fishing vessels accounted for a greater share of fishing revenues than in a previous year. For 2010, 20 percent of active groundfish vessels accounted for 75 percent of groundfish revenues — up from 66 percent of revenues for the 2007-2009 period.
U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, a ranking member of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard subcommittee, welcomed the newly released data.
“Today’s report indicates that empowering fishermen to manage this resource is providing encouraging results and opens the door to cautious optimism about the future of our historic fishery,” Snowe said in a statement. “This data is indicative of the imperative to redouble our commitment to New England’s groundfishery to ensure it supports the maximum achievable prosperity for our coastal economies.”
Final figures for the full 2010-11 fishing year will be released in the fall, but officials said preliminary numbers suggest the groundfish catch for the year will be nearly equal to 2009-10.
To view the full report, click here.