Portland Fish Exchange ‘limping along’
It’s a weekday morning, and the cavernous refrigerated hall of the Portland Fish Exchange — the country’s oldest wholesale fresh-fish auction — is at a 10th of capacity.
A dozen vessels — most of them small boats — have discharged their catch. There are 100 ice-filled plastic totes of pollock at the back of the hall, and smaller numbers holding cod, hake, sole and other bottom-dwelling “groundfish.” Eight swordfish — silver torpedoes weighing nearly 200 pounds apiece — have come in on the Safe Haven, a 40-foot boat out of Harpswell.
It’s not a bad day, given the state of the Gulf of Maine’s fisheries, but all told there are just 25,000 pounds of product on the floor. Bert Jongerden, the exchange’s general manager, estimates that the publicly owned facility is on target for 5 million to 6 million pounds in 2012, ahead of the record low of 3.8 million pounds in 2010, but a fraction of the 20 million pounds it took in annually in the 1990s.
“We’re limping along, but you can’t plan adequately because the science is so speculative,” Jongerden said, alluding to the federal fisheries service’s recent radical downward revisions of the health of New England's cod populations. “No one has any faith in the science anymore.”
“Everyone’s trying hard to stay in business,” he said of the fishermen who still land their fish in Maine. “They’ve got so much capital investment in this they can’t just bail on it, so they hope the government can get the science straightened out.”