The Northeast groundfish season kicked off May 1. The federal shutdown last winter meant some management changes, like Framework 58, which changes catch limits on several stocks, faced delays.

Groundfish prices seem to be fluctuating. Bert Jongerden, general manager of the Portland Fish Exchange, a wholesale auction in Maine says fleets are  “mostly bringing in Gulf of Maine haddock, dabs, and white hake; it’s balanced among those.”

Gulf of Maine haddock appears steady, with average price for large fish around $2.78 per pound. Demand for dabs in restaurant markets is high, fetching $4.50-5 for large fish.

Fleets are hauling high volumes of redfish, with low prices. Another low point is monkfish.

“Tails are very soft, sometimes less than $1 per pound on auction,” says Jongerden. It is a pattern that has been seen a few years — likely a result of robust supply but cold European markets, which set the price.

“A lot of gillnetters are targeting monks to avoid cod, because there is a terrible cod problem. The fish are there,” said Jongerden. Average prices for cod were $3.24 to $3.81 per pound as of late June.

All eyes are on Atlantic pollock. “Gillnetters are just not seeing them, no large or mediums,” adds Jongerden. Pollock (aka Boston bluefish) is popular in New York markets.

“They can’t get enough,” says George Parr, a Maine fishmonger.  “It used to be my cheap alternative. Now hake is my cheap alternative!” Large pollock are $3.75 per pound, up from around $1.75 per pound last year — compared to 35 cents a decade ago.

“We have a pollock issue and cod problem,” Jongerden says.

Discussions about cod assessments are ongoing and sometimes heated. A major action, called Amendment 23, intended to improve the groundfish monitoring program is being developed.

“Right now, we’re on track to go out to public hearing sometime this winter,” said Janice Plante of the New England Fishery Management Council. Several other groundfish-related actions are under development, including Framework 59, to “set 2020 catch limits for our shared U.S./Canada stocks of cod, haddock, and yellowtail flounder on Georges Bank,” she said. 2020-2022 catch limits will be set for most groundfish stocks through this framework.

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Caroline Losneck is an independent radio producer, filmmaker and documentarian living in Portland, Maine.

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