In 2019, Maine’s total commercial groundfish landings were valued at around $ 4 million. In 2020, Maine fleets landed just 58,730 pounds of cod, on average $ 2.55 per pound at the wharf valued at $ 149,844, while £ 15.2 million had been landed a decade earlier.
A NOAA status update in 2021 indicated that in New England 13 commercial species are currently considered “overexploited” including: Atlantic cod (considered collapsed), yellowtail flounder, halibut flounder, winter flounder, and Atlantic herring.
“One of the problems is that there are so many dogfish and they’re having a hard time getting groundfish all over the east coast,” says George Parr, longtime fishmonger with Upstream Trucking in Portland, in Maine. In recent years, dogfish have appeared earlier and earlier in the Gulf of Maine. While dogfish rarely attack Atlantic cod, studies have investigated whether dogfish populations can limit cod, by competition or by predation.
“For every hundred pounds of [other] of the fish they bring back, they bring in 500 pounds of dogfish, ”says Parr. “They get ten cents a pound for that.”
At the Portland Fish Exchange in Portland, Maine, the large haddock cost $ 2.26 a pound, while pollock averaged $ 1.69 for the small, $ 2.54 for the medium, and $ 2.00 per pound. $ 66 for the big early July.
“But right now the big pollock costs about $ 3 for a whole fish,” Parr adds. “Twenty years ago you would have been lucky to get 40 cents a pound.” In early July, average auction prices for cod were $ 3.01 for market size and $ 5.10 for large.
“Cod has gotten less than pollock lately,” Parr says. “Sometimes cod costs $ 2.35 a pound. And there isn’t always much at auction. Many boats no longer come here. It’s nothing compared to what it used to be.
Groundfish at auction lost up to 65% last year from 2019, due to the pandemic. Parr says he’s been selling a lot of hake and pollock lately. “My customers want good, cheap fish, but this boat has sailed. “
In American markets, Icelandic cod is not uncommon.
“This is what keeps the cod market from going crazy,” Parr says. “There is so much from Iceland. Anecdotal reports suggest Newfoundland and Iceland may have a banner year for cod, possibly due to cooler water temperatures.
Rick Speed, vice president of sales and marketing at Blue Harvest, a New Bedford, Mass., Company that owns a fleet of groundfish fishing vessels, says recent federal programs have helped boost the groundfish industry.
“Last year $ 20 million was allocated by USDA as part of a great program for processors and stakeholders – and for people visiting pantries. The program purchased pollack, redfish and Atlantic haddock (caught and processed by companies like Blue Harvest) as part of a coordinated effort to supply US food banks. “There seems to be a continued demand for this, and it is a great success.”
One of the factors the industry is indirectly facing is skyrocketing freight rates.
“It didn’t impact the groundfish market, but it did impact imports,” says Speed. “If overseas production costs are more balanced with US production, US users will turn to US products. This means that we have seen a strong demand for groundfish, but we cannot keep up.
One positive point is that the redfish markets – which historically have had limited distribution – have recovered considerably.
“When you develop a fishery like ours, it’s promising. The most important thing for us at the moment is that we had to bring in more vessels to process our quota, ”says Speed. “Redfish is an underutilized species, and we have a large quota. Pilot efforts to expand redfish into the fish and chip market are underway.
“Overall, we’re seeing pretty good demand for groundfish,” Speed adds. “We didn’t put as much emphasis on pollock as we did on redfish. And along the northeast, haddock appears to be down in both catch and volume this year, compared to recent years. “We don’t know why,” Speed adds. “We’ll wait and see what the polls say about what’s going on. “
At Bergie’s Seafood in New Bedford, the focus is on flatfish such as plaice, dabs and gray sole. A few months ago, however, haddock was hitting the fleets, says Phil Mello, managing director of Bergie, but it suddenly became scarce. “Maybe it’s the temperature of the water. He had been fairly stable until about a month ago. And cod remains rare. “The boats bring in little cod, it is a stifling species.” The gray sole is up and down, random.
“Right now we’re in a bit of a lull, as some boats tie up for a few months to go on vacation,” explains Mello. “As many of the fishermen in this region are Portuguese, some have returned to Portugal for tours, while other boats have started projects like engine redesigns.”
Because Bergie’s supplies the distributors who supply restaurants, covid-19 has been hit hard. But things are slowly improving, as seats reopen at half or full capacity. The work is a national challenge.
“It doesn’t have a big impact on groundfish,” says Speed, of Blue Harvest, “but in the end it could translate into higher costs. However, transportation and packaging costs are also higher, in large part because of the pandemic.
“A package that we use is 7-8 weeks. The problem now is that not everyone has enough help, ”adds Bergie’s Mello. “We supply a big New Jersey chain, and he doesn’t have the help picking up his freight, his fish!”
One of the dynamics of the pandemic has been the shift to grocery sales. “I think there is a residue that results from it,” says Speed. “A lot of grocery stores kept their usual products, but it also opened the door for other species. I think it will be positive for everyone.