NEW BEDFORD, Mass. -- October 14, 2012 -- They say bad news comes in threes, and that seems to be the case in the New Bedford fishing industry these days. On top of a recent declaration from the secretary of commerce that the groundifsh industry in New England is a national disaster, the scallop fleet is looking at catch reductions of 30 percent for the next two years. And groudfishermen are resigned to more drastic cuts to their quota for the next fishing year, which begins on May 1.
The latest estimates project that the catch for key stocks like cod and yellowtail flounder will be reduced by 70 and 51 percent respectively on Georges Bank where local boats harvest most of their catch.
The seafood industry has kept New Bedford as the top-grossing fishing port in the nation for 12 consecutive years but the cuts will be felt far beyond the tight-knit fishing community. For those who live and work in the city the loss of fishing revenue means a loss for everyone, from car dealerships to supermarkets to waitresses and everything in between.
Annual groundfish revenue in New Bedford is $20 million while the scallop catch is worth $400 million. The combined value of the fishing industry accounts for $1.3 billion in economic activity in the New Bedford area, Mayor Jon Mitchell calculated last month when he wrote to the New England Fishery Management Council, imploring them to avoid cutting the groundfish catch for at least another year until the surveys could be updated. The proposed cuts to next year's catch would deal "a devastating economic blow" to the city by permanently eliminating hundreds of jobs, Mitchell wrote.
Along the waterfront, businesses that depend on a healthy fishery are bracing for the fallout that these cuts will undoubtedly bring.
"We are committed to offering New England groundfish, but this will definitely have an impact for processors," said Laura Foley Ramsden of Foley Fish, who is also a member of the New England Fishery Management Council.
Prices will increase with the lack of a steady supply, making New England groundfish less competitive with farmed or imported species, she said, while the U.S. already imports 91 percent of its seafood. "The cuts to groundfish are not enough of our business to put us at risk," Foley Ramsden said. "But our concern is with the fishermen and what NOAA can do to give them better access to healthier stocks."
Around the corner from the Foley Fish plant, Marc Bergeron, owner of Bergie's Seafood on Hassey Street said he feared for the future of the groundfish industry. "It's just going to be the same ol', same ol,'" he said of the looming cuts "Every time they make a cut somebody gets left behind. Now there's just a handful of people fighting for a piece of the pie that keeps getting smaller and smaller."
Other waterfront business owners are also dealing with the changes. John Liarikos, owner of Sea Fuels said he has already cut the hours for some of his employees with fewer boats fishing now, and has had to pick up the slack himself. "It's just more bad news," he said. "More cuts to groundfish affects everyone," he said. But he is more concerned about the scallop fleet which represents most of his business, he said. "That's 90 percent of it," he said. A scallop boat will burn from 6,000 to 11,000 gallons of fuel on a trip, industry figures say.
Crystal Ice also needs a healthy industry to survive, said Rob Hicks, manager of the plant on the New Bedford waterfront. "Any cuts will hurt our business and all the businesses that depend on fishing. Probably there will be people getting laid off all over the place," he said.
Read the full story at the New Bedford Standard Times