Cape ports land more fish, but value slips
By Lorelei Steves | @CCTLorelei
Photo by Steve Heaslip for the Cape Cod Times
CHATHAM — Local fish landings were up last year, but value was down, according to a federal report released Thursday.
Commercial fishermen landed 20 million pounds in the Provincetown-Chatham area in 2014, a notable increase over the 14 million pounds landed the previous year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service reported in “Fisheries of the United States 2014.”
Compared with all other U.S. ports, the Provincetown-Chatham area ranked 42 in value and 43 in landings.
The increase in landings can be partially attributed to jumps in catches of some of the area’s most abundant species — dogfish and skates. Lobster and shellfish are also important contributors to Cape fishing landings. Bluefin tuna landings were up, too, with 971 metric tons landed last year compared with 389 metric tons in 2013. While that figure includes landings in ports from Maine to Florida and beyond, the Cape is a seasonal hot spot for the big fish.
Value for the Provincetown-Chatham area declined from $30 million to $29 million. While still higher than values posted during the years 2010 through 2012, there are concerns within the local industry that it could be the beginning of a further slide.
Nancy Civetta, spokeswoman for the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, predicted skate values will be down when the 2015 report comes out next year because off-Cape processors who prepare skate wings for the export market are paying 35 to 40 cents per pound this year, compared with closer to 85 cents per pound paid in 2014.
“This is a huge issue for the viability of the local fleet,” Civetta said.
Because the vast majority of dogfish and skate landed by local fishermen are shipped overseas, prices are tied to what’s happening in foreign markets.
“The euro is down and the Asian market is down,” she said.
A solution for local fishermen, fish stocks and Cape consumers is to build a domestic market for dogfish and skates. Fishermen catch a lot of them, both species are abundant and retail prices in fish markets would be lower than for many other seafood varieties, some of which are imported from outside the U.S.
“A domestic market would create more stability,” Civetta said. “But it’s a chicken-and-egg situation. We try to introduce dogfish and skates to the consumer, but fish markets don’t carry them because consumers aren’t asking for them.”
For the 15th consecutive year, the port of New Bedford had the highest-valued catch in the U.S., the fisheries service reported — $328.8 million for 140 million pounds landed. Sea scallops, which retail in local markets for around $23 per pound, accounted for more than 76.6 percent of the value of New Bedford’s landings. Overall value was down by $50 million compared with 2013.
Dutch Harbor, Alaska, retained its top standing for the 18th year in a row for highest volume landed with 761.8 million pounds. The port came in second for value at $191.4 million with walleye pollock accounting for 87 percent of landings.
— Follow Lorelei Stevens on Twitter: @CCTLorelei.