“The stocks themselves are in good shape, with plenty of fish to catch.” — Bert Jongerden, general manager of the Portland Fish Exchange

At the start of 2018, regulatory changes triggered substantial quota increases for several commercially important groundfish stocks, including Georges Bank cod, Gulf of Maine cod, Gulf of Maine haddock and pollock — as well as smaller increases for a few choke stocks.

“The stocks themselves are in good shape, with plenty of fish to catch,” said Bert Jongerden, general manager of the Portland Fish Exchange, a wholesale fish auction in Maine.

Catch limits for other groundfish decreased from 2017 limits, and fishermen still face challenges with non-allocated stocks, such as windowpane flounder.

“Overall, however, the 2018 quotas provide a number of groundfish fishing opportunities on healthy resources,” said Janice Plante, public affairs officer for the New England Fishery Management Council.

Despite a Gulf of Maine cod quota increase, the catch limit remains depressed for fishermen trying to work on healthy stocks. Wholesale auction prices for gulf cod were averaging at $2.52 for large cod in late July. However, added Jongerden, “dabs are the choke species for cod, and boats have to buy allocation in order to go fishing.”

Georges Bank haddock continues to be one of the healthiest stocks — and markets support it.

“Even though the commercial catch limit dropped by 20 percent in 2018,” added Plante, “it’s still extremely high.” That stock’s ACL was about 53,000 metric tons, and dropped to 44,500 metric tons this year. Pollock and Acadian redfish also are healthy and have substantial catch limits. Monkfish tails, which averaged at $4.58 at auction, remain popular as skewers and chowder in fancy restaurants. “I get the feeling there was more harvest of monk tails, or poor man’s lobster, this year,” said Jongerden.

Groundfish prices and demand often fluctuate seasonally.

“After the 4th of July, prices are steady, with good demand,” said Jongerden.

After Labor Day, demand dips, and spikes again around winter holidays.

Imports and aquaculture fish are another pressure point for domestic groundfish markets. Another challenge, said Jongerden, is an ongoing labor shortage of captains and crews for fleets. The New England council is is working on changes to the groundfish plan, which among other things, would include an amendment to improve reliability and accountability of groundfish catch reporting to better represent both landings and discards.

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

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