Monday, May 23, 2011

What will the future of fishing look like?

Our fearless leader Angela Sanfilippo made an interesting point at our weekly meeting last week. We were discussing some of the issues Gloucester faces as a fishing port. One of them is the loss of infrstructure (and this applies to most if not all fishing communities).

We all know that along with the decline of the value and size of our fisheries over the last 50 years, there has been a commensurate decline in the shoreside infrastructure that is necessary to land and process fish. Along with the decline we have also seen coastal real estate values skyrocket and commercial lands converted to residential.

Angela's point was made in the form of a question, "If we rebuild this fishery, according to NOAA'a projections, but 2014 we will be catching twice as much fish as we are today. Where are all those fish going to go?"

The value of the fish landed in Gloucester last year is somewhere around $5o million with around 122 million pounds of fish landed. If catches do indeed double, are we doomed for a repeat of the great fish glut that followed the imposition of the 200 mile limit? (You can see the entire landings totals and values since 1980 here.)

Back when the US imposed a 200 mile exclusive economic zone and forced the factory ships offshore, Gloucester fishermen were suddenly landing so many fish there were not enough places to land them. Apparently at times fishermen were getting so little for their fish that they were dumped or left to rot on the docks.

Hopefully that will not be the case in the coming years as hopefully restrictions are eased and catches go up commesurate with increasing fish populations. It is sometimes hard to remember that for the hundreds of years that people have been fishing, and for thousands of years before that, our waters were one of, if not the most productive fishing ecosystems on the planet. If we manage it correctly, there should not only be a healthy fishing industry, healthy stocks of fish, and healthy fishing communities.

But, we do have to remember to save some shore front.

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