< Back to Northeast Dashboard

Have economic and social effects on local communities changed?

Indicators: Seafood Dealers and Processors

Key Findings

  • The number of seafood dealers reporting purchases of groundfish declined by about 22 percent over the baseline period (2001-2007) due to a decrease in groundfish landings. The processing industry was not appreciably affected by fluctuations in the availability of domestic sources of groundfish, as processors were able to use imported groundfish or substitute species.
  • During the first five years of the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program the numbers of dealers reporting buying groundfish decreased slightly.
  • Groundfish are increasingly being sold to community-supported fisheries, specialty distributors, or directly to consumers by some segments of the New England groundfish industry, particularly the small, day-boat fleet, in order to capitalize on growing demand for differentiated products and move toward end markets that value fresh, local, storied, and/or traceable fish.

Interactive Chart Story

Metrics

This indicator shows changes in the number of shoreside entities purchasing and processing groundfish.

In Their Own Words

Although some of the quantitative data analyzed for this indicator exhibited clear trends, it was challenging to discuss the relationships between observed data trends and implementation of the respective catch share programs, especially in the Northeast. The Measuring the Effects of Catch Shares project team believed that those stakeholders most involved in the fishery, either as active participants or as representatives of an involved coalition of participants (e.g., sector managers in the Northeast), would be able to provide insight and help to explain trends seen in the existing quantitative data. The following quotes were selected to illustrate some of those perspectives and highlight trends such as effects on small vessels, the effect of avoiding “choke stocks,” fleet diversification, and product quality. The individual quotes do not represent findings or conclusions for this indicator, nor do they represent a consensus across any category of participants.

“I’ve talked to a few guys that are also dealers. They need steady product coming in, and they didn’t see a steady product coming from the groundfish fishery anymore. They’ve outsourced. I go to my supermarket. I see the cod. I know where it’s coming from. It’s coming from Norway, Iceland. I mean it’s a beautiful product too.”
~ Industry Representative

“In New Hampshire, [a sector] manager…helped set up independent of the sector but using the sector members, basically a Community Supported Fishery. The New Hampshire Community Seafood Program was buying fish directly from the sector members. It was promoted in New Hampshire as being fresh-caught, New Hampshire fish. I think they have like 15 or 18 drop-off sites around New Hampshire. It was a practice of getting the fish directly from the boat to the consumer directly, or to restaurants directly. I think she pays maybe like 25 cents more a pound than that day’s auction price. I’ve seen other guys take on more of the responsibility of marketing their fish directly, but what I found is that it’s not as sustainable for them to do it themselves. They already have a job, to go catch the fish.”
~ Industry Representative

“We also recognize from experiences in other fisheries that if there aren’t some sort of controls in place when you move to these quota based systems you can have a lot of consolidation. Smaller, more remote fishing communities often take the brunt of that. Some fisheries probably need some degree of consolidation. I think we all know that the consolidation with the groundfish was happening before any of this sector management started.”
~ NGO

Analysis

Baseline: Before Catch Share Program

The total number of seafood dealers reporting purchases of groundfish declined over the baseline period, from 170 in 2001 to 133 in 2007. The decrease was likely due to the steady decrease in groundfish landings during the baseline years (Financial Viability of the Fishery: Landings). Seafood dealers in Massachusetts accounted for more than 70 percent of the value of groundfish purchased, and the combined purchases by Maine and Massachusetts dealers accounted for over 90 percent of total value of all groundfish purchased. A substantial proportion of groundfish was purchased through the three auctions in Massachusetts (New Bedford, Gloucester and Boston) and one auction in Maine (Portland), although the share of groundfish purchased through auctions declined from 57 percent in 2001 to 46 percent by 2007. The Portland fish auction in particular had steadily declining groundfish landings due in part to the increasing propensity of Maine-based groundfish vessels to land their catch in out-of-state ports, where they could also sell their incidentally-caught lobster (Revenues and Landings by State and Port Group).

Groundfish accounted for a decreasing proportion of all purchases of seafood from commercial fishing vessels due to a decline in the total value of groundfish available to seafood dealers (Financial Viability of the Fishery: Revenues) and an increase in the value non-groundfish purchases. In Massachusetts, for example, the relative share of groundfish of the total value of all seafood purchased fell from 19.2 percent in 2001 to 3.2 percent in 2007.

The processing industry was not appreciably affected by fluctuations in the availability of domestic sources of groundfish, as processors were able to use imported groundfish or substitute species to maintain product lines. This does not necessarily mean that all segments of the processing industry were readily able to find alternatives, as some processors were more reliant on local sources of seafood to meet customer demand. For example, in Massachusetts, which was the dominant state in groundfish processing, this strategy of importing fish favored Boston processors due to access to Logan Airport and the regional food wholesaling system in the city. New Bedford processors, who used to truck whole groundfish into the city from other ports, began processing only the fish that was landed locally, while processors in Gloucester processed fillets for local customers and shipped the rest whole to Boston for processing.

During Catch Share Program

During the first five years of the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program the numbers of dealers reporting buying groundfish decreased slightly, although total numbers rose in 2011-2013. Including auction markets, seafood dealers in Massachusetts and Maine continued to accounted for over 90 percent of total value of groundfish purchased. The proportion of groundfish purchased through the four auctions fell to just under 40 percent of the total value in 2014.

Groundfish are also increasingly being sold to community-supported fisheries (CSFs), specialty distributors, or directly to consumers (Financial Viability of the Fishery: Revenues). Certain segments of the New England groundfish industry, particularly the small, day-boat fleet, are beginning to capitalize on growing demand for differentiated products and move toward end markets that value fresh, local, storied, and/or traceable fish. In contrast, the auctions typically feed into the commodity market, as there is little product differentiation and little or no traceability. Within the past few years, at least eight CSFs have formed throughout the Northeast by fishermen and their communities. Currently, there are CSFs based in Port Clyde and Portland, Maine; coastal New Hampshire; Gloucester, Scituate, and Chatham, Massachusetts; and Newport, Rhode Island.

As domestic landings of groundfish declined during the catch share program period due to cuts in the harvest limits of key stocks (Financial Viability of the Fishery: Landings), the processing sector increasingly turned toward alternative sources of groundfish or used substitute species. Groundfish processors continued to operate in communities such as New Bedford, Boston, Gloucester, Fall River, Melrose and Bourne, Massachusetts; Portland, Maine; and Wickford and Warwick, Rhode Island.

Information Sources

Georgianna, D. 2000. The Massachusetts Marine Economy. University of Massachusetts. Dartmouth, MA.

Gulf of Maine Research Institute. 2012. Sector Management in New England’s Groundfish Fishery: Dramatic Change Spurs Innovation. Portland, ME.

New England Fishery Management Council. 2009. Final Amendment 16 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, Including an Environmental Impact Statement and Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis. Newburyport, MA.

New England Fishery Management Council. 2016. Final Amendment 18 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, Including an Environmental Impact Statement and Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis. Newburyport, MA.

Updated: July 2018

© 2018 MRAG Americas, Inc. All Rights Reserved.