US Fishing Volume Drops as Value Stays Afloat, Report Finds

Photo by Guy Fanguy via NOAA

MANHATTAN (CN) – The U.S. fishing industry caught a strong tide in 2016, the government reported Wednesday, unveiling its annual snapshot that tracks fisheries by species, as well as annual seafood consumption and the productivity of top fishing ports.

Though the 9.6 billion pounds of seafood hauled to land last year marked a 1.5 percent decrease from 2015, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Fisheries of the United States report put the value of that catch at $5.3 billion, an increase of 2.1 percent from the previous year.

Clocking in at 176 pages, the report dated Oct. 30 but released Wednesday is littered with eye-catching infographics.

They show among other things that the highest value commercial species for fishermen last year were lobster ($723 million), crab ($704 million), scallop ($488 million), shrimp ($483 million), salmon ($420 million) and Alaska walleye pollock ($417 million).

That last fish showed near-record landings of 3.4 billion pounds in 2016, a 3 percent surge from the year before, representing 35 percent of total U.S. commercial and recreational seafood landings.

This made Alaska walleye pollock the nation’s largest commercial fishery by volume, according to the report.

Other findings include that 9.6 million anglers caught more than 371 million fish in nearly 63 million trips last year. Of fish, 61 percent were released alive.

In 2015, according to the report, fishing contributed $36 billion to the national economy.

The NOAA says striped bass remains the top harvested catch by weight among saltwater anglers, followed by dolphinfish, bluefish, yellowfin tuna, spotted seatrout, and summer flounder.

Regulators also counted a 1 percent increase in seafood imports last year. Weighing in at 5.8 billion pounds, those fish are worth $19.5 billion, a 3.5 percent increase from 2015, according to the report.

American fishermen still catch “a significant portion of this imported seafood,” the NOAA noted in a press release, noting that the fish is exported overseas for processing and then reimported to the United States. 

Shrimp and salmon, largely farm raised, are two of the top three imported species.

China, Indonesia and India lead the world in total aquaculture production, with the U.S. trailing far behind in 16th place.

The report says 1.4 billion pounds of aquaculture production was reported in the U.S. in 2015.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross emphasized that these numbers “underscore the untapped potential of aquaculture here at home.”

“Expanding our nation’s aquaculture capacity presents an opportunity to reduce America’s reliance on imports while creating thousands of new jobs,” Ross said in a statement.

Seafood consumption went down in the U.S. last year, the NOAA found, saying the average American ate 14.9 pounds of fish and shellfish in 2016, but 15.5 pounds in 2015.

“U.S. dietary guidelines recommend 8-12 ounces of a variety of seafood species per week, or 26 to 39 pounds per person per year,” according to the NOAA’s statement on its report.

In Alaska, the port of Dutch Harbor led the country last year with the highest amount of seafood landed for the 20th consecutive year.

Those 770 million pounds of fish were valued at $198 million, and walleye pollock accounted for 89 percent of that volume.

Sea scallops accounted for 77 percent of the value meanwhile of the 107 million pounds of fish hauled into the port with the highest value catch ($327 million). New Bedford, Massachusetts, took that honor for the 17th year in a row.

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