January 28, 2014
Yes, the numbers are grim.
The latest NOAA annual report on the Northeast groundfishery shows that landings were down by 24.9 percent across the region, while landings and values both hit four-year lows in Gloucester, and overall values fell by nearly 25 percent from the previous year.
But as much as those statistics document the plunge of the Gloucester and Northeast groundfisheries into the “economic disaster” the Department of Commerce had already recognized, it’s important to remember that this report – as outlined in Friday’s Times — covers only the 2012 fishing year.
That’s the year that ran from May 1, 2012, through last April 30 — the year before NOAA put new clamps on the industry with cuts in catch limits of up to 78 percent from even the previous year.
That means these statistics — clearly driven more by NOAA’s catch share management system than the hard catch limits themselves – spotlights only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to documenting the current fishing crisis. And that’s a scary premise when one even considers looking ahead to this same state-of-the-fishery report for the current 2013 fishing year, which began under the new restrictions last May 1 and continues through this April 30.
The 2012 groundfish report, just released last week, seems hopelessly outdated when it notes the number of fishing vessels dropped from 776 in 2011 to 764 in 2012 — while Gloucester’s actually adding one boat to rise from 91 to 92.
Since last May, however, the active Gloucester groundfishing fleet has, by some counts, fallen to a fraction of that, with fishermen not only selling off their boats, but putting their homes on the block as well in the face of bankruptcy and foreclosure. Yet those statistics presumably won’t be available until up to a year from now.