NOAA: US Mid-Atlantic records lowest commercial seafood revenue since 1987
The U.S. Mid-Atlantic region saw its lowest year of seafood production by volume on record in 2021, paired with its lowest commercial revenue for seafood sales since 1987.
“When we look at performance relative to management objectives in the Mid-Atlantic, we see that both seafood production and profits as indexed by revenues have a long-term downward trend and are currently below the long-term average,” NOAA NMFS Research Fishery Biologist Sarah Gaichas said.
Those drops in revenue were driven by lower landings of surf clams and quahogs, according to NOAA Fisheries’ annual State of the Ecosystem reports.
It’s not exactly clear why there’s been a long term decline in landings in the region, although Gaichas pointed to market drivers as the likely culprit, as the data does not show a drop in biomass and Mid-Atlantic landings for most species and landings have been below the annual catch limits.
“It seems then that management is less likely to be playing a role in this overall landings decline that we're seeing in the Mid-Atlantic,” Gaichas said.
New England faired better in NOAA’s assessment, with 2021 profits rising above the historical average thanks to gains in sales of Atlantic sea scallops and higher American lobster landings. However, the agency warns that New England fishermen’s tendency to heavily target a few species instead of embracing a diversity of commercial fish species could be problematic in the long term as climate change continues to affect those species.
A few New England fish stocks are below the level NOAA wants them to be and a couple species are being fished above the maximum mortality rate, Gaichas said.
"Management action needs to be taken to restore to bring them back up,” Gaichas said. “There is more potential in New England for management to be the cause of some of these declines in landings than we saw in the Mid-Atlantic."
At the same time, a pair of studies out of University of Chicago purport to show that U.S. fisheries policies are helping stocks rebound.
"Our fishing policy is working, and that is very encouraging news at a time when sustaining our fisheries couldn't be more vital,” Eyal Frank, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, said in a press release.
In their first study, published in Science, the researchers claim that many commercial fish stocks remain underfished because there is not enough commercial demand or they cannot be caught without producing bycatch of depleted fish species. A second study compares E.U. and U.S. fish stocks, showing that U.S. fish policies helped increase the size of fish by 52.2 percent and helped fish populations double in size within five to ten years.
"We hope these studies provide useful evidence for policymakers that science-based management of biological resources actually works," co-lead author Kimberly Oremus, an assistant professor at the University of Delaware's School of Marine Science and Policy, said.
Photo courtesy of NOAA