Rebuilding New England groundfish
Once, New England cod was king in America, the most lucrative product traded during Colonial times. In modern times, the 1980s and early 1990s were the heyday for New England groundfish, the complex of 20 species that includes cod, haddock, flounders and pollock.
“New England owned the fresh fish business, not just in New England but certainly as far west as Denver and all the way down to Florida,” says John Norton, founder and president of Cozy Harbor Seafood in Portland, Maine.
But by the mid-1990s, Norton says, consistency of supply became an issue and the downfall began. First, it was a lot of small, young fish in the catch, a hallmark of overfishing. Then, it was the national regulations aimed at rebuilding crashed groundfish stocks. The biggest buyers — starting with the U.S. military — began to back off in favor of more consistent product, like farmed salmon.
And in the last 15 years, New England groundfish’s slide in market share has only continued. On a good day, it may be about 15 percent in the eastern United States, says Norton.
After one full fishing year — May 2010 to May 2011 — under catch-share management and annual catch limits, the question of whether New England groundfish can retain or even grow its market share is still hard to answer.
Supply during the first year under the new rules was anything but stable. “It was a constant roller coaster ride,” says Norton.
Click here to read the rest of Duchene’s feature on New England’s groundfish fisheries, which ran in the July issue of SeaFood Business magazine.