National Fisherman's Melissa Wood shares her stories as a writer and editor covering the U.S. fishing industry.
Wednesday, 25 September 2013
One of my favorite parts of working for National Fisherman is access to our archives. While certain issues are timeless — like disputes over who gets to catch what and where — it’s also amazing to see how much has changed in the world of commercial fishing. Take a look at our slideshow to see some of the differences between 1963 and today.
Stuck in fifth
In 1963 the growth of commercial fishing was a top priority for the industry, which faced stiff competition in its waters from government-subsidized foreign fleets. U.S. investment in its own fleets was seen as part of the solution; it was hoped that the newly launched Massachusetts, a 124-foot steel trawler, would help revitalize the Boston industry.
Since then U.S. landings have doubled, from 4.8 billion in 1963 to 9.9 billion in 2011 (the most recent year statistics are available). The world’s top fleets have changed too. In 1963, the United States was #5 in the list of top fishing countries, preceded by No. 1 Peru, Japan, China and the Soviet Union. In 2011, the countries with the biggest catches (which includes aquaculture) were led by China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and the United States.
In the days before imported shrimp, Louisiana led U.S. states in volume with 761 million pounds — 16 percent of the U.S. catch. California was the leader in value with $49 million thanks to ports like Monterey (shown), which was home to a large number of seiners targeting sardines.
Farther down the California coast, San Pedro was the port with the most landings with 348 million pounds. While Alaska accounts for half of U.S. landings now, its rich waters made up just 8 percent of the catch in 1963.
When the 83-foot Explorer was launched in 1963, gas was about 30 cents a gallon. The newest scallop dragger in the New Bedford, Mass., fleet was powered by a 510 h.p. Caterpillar Diesel.
Though average fish prices have also increased, they have not kept up with gas rates, which have risen more than 10 times in 50 years. In comparison, average prices for fish increased sevenfold from a little under 8 cents per pound to 54 cents per pound.
In this photo, a Panamanian crew stands aboard their newly built shrimp trawler completed at Desco yards at St. Augustine, Fla. At the time, the Florida firm was the nation’s largest exporter of fishing vessels.
Imports were making news too. In 1963 for the first time imports made up more than half the total supply (57 percent) of U.S. fishery products (domestic catch plus imports). According to Fishery Statistics for 1963, the increase was thanks to a decline of U.S. production in fish meal and rise in imported fish meal from Peru. Today, imports make up 91 percent of the seafood Americans eat.
Great Lakes lagging
The 1930s-era Great Lakes fisherman shown here pulling in a wooden basket trap had better fishing days than his 1960s counterparts. Commercial fishing was on the decline, with 1963’s catch the lowest on record at 53.8 million pounds. By comparison, the Great Lakes reported average annual landings of 102.3 million in 1879-1908, 85.3 million in 1914-1928 and 75.9 million from 1929-1963.
“It may be necessary, someday, to set quotas on production of certain species and to limit the number of fishermen,” notes a historical overview of the fishery written in 1963. A botulism scare made things even worse for Great Lakes fishermen. Midwesterners began avoiding fish after seven people died from eating packed smoked whitefish.
Longlines pay off
Longlining for swordfish began during a research trip the year before when scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod chartered the 76-foot dragger Cap’n Bill III to check on bluefin tuna activity using experimental longlines.
Skipper Henry Klimm was more interested in the swords (previously caught at the surface by harpoons) landed during the research. “No better trip of swordfish has ever been landed by an American vessel,” reported National Fisherman after he loaded his deck (shown) with a haul of 366 swordfish after one particularly rewarding trip.
Today they’re everywhere, but in 1963, cameras were a novelty. Even back then, however, some already recognized the enormous potential they had in revealing the underwater world, where they could be used for marine research and locating wrecks.
The new technology was also recognized for its potential in commercial fishing. In this photo, a television camera attached to a closed-circuit TV allowed the viewer to watch the fish before they're hauled up on deck.
Introducing National Fisherman Live, a biweekly web video featuring the latest fishing news, product information and industry analysis by our editors.
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