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January 2012 Issue

Fisheries and Aquaculture: Landings Up, But Farmed Production, Revenues Down

By Rick Martin
Commercial Fisheries News and Fish Farming News
Compass Publications Inc.

Commercial fishermen in the U.S. may have finally caught a long-awaited break in 2010 as both wild capture landings and the value of those landings posted appreciable gains.

This good news, however, was tempered by widespread unsettlement in the commercial fishing industry, driven by fisheries management changes that appear to be accelerating the trend toward fleet consolidation. Fewer boats catching more fish at higher prices may be good for a few, but fleet consolidation poses serious challenges for many U.S. coastal communities that depend on fishing-related jobs.

U.S. seafood consumption numbers continued to languish, but competitively priced seafood imports still found markets, posting gains in both number of pounds imported and in value. Domestic aquaculture production did not fare as well, perhaps due to surging imports. U.S. fish farmers endured another difficult year of declining production and unimpressive revenues.

Commercial Landings
U.S. commercial fishermen landed 8.2 billion pounds of fish and shellfish in 2010 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), according to NOAA's annual report, Fisheries of the United States. This represented an increase of 200 million pounds, or about 2.5 percent, compared to 2009.

Value of U.S. commercial landings was also up by $628.5 million for a total of $4.5 billion, an increase of roughly 16 percent from 2009.

Imports also were up in both volume and value. About 5.5 billion pounds, valued at $14.8 billion, of edible fishery products were imported in 2010, according to NOAA. This was an increase of 294.8 million pounds, or $1.7 billion in value.

Seafood Consumption
Per capita seafood consumption in the U.S. continued to trend downward in 2010. After a slight rise in U.S. per capita seafood consumption in 2006, consumption numbers have generally been in decline since 2007. In 2010, the average U.S. consumer ate 15.8 pounds of seafood, a dip of 0.2 pounds from 2009 figures and well below the record high of 16.6 pounds in 2004.

U.S. consumers spent an estimated $80.2 billion for fish and seafood products in 2010. Americans continue to eat most of their seafood in restaurants, spending $54 billion in food-service purchases (restaurants, take-out, caterers, etc.). About $25.8 billion was spent on seafood for at-home preparation and consumption, and $432 million was spent on industrial fish products.

Shrimp remained the top choice for U.S. consumers, the same as in 2009. Canned tuna, salmon, tilapia and Alaska pollock rounded out the top-five list of most popular species. Trailing Alaska pollock were catfish, crab, cod, pangasius (or so-called imported catfish) and clams.

Aquaculture Production
U.S. aquaculture production declined somewhat in poundage in 2009 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), accompanied by a decline in production value. Total production in 2009 was roughly 724 million pounds, versus 784 million pounds for the previous year. Catfish production continued to spiral downward to 476 million pounds, a steep drop from 2004, when production exceeded 630 million pounds. Salmon and striped bass production also dropped appreciably from 2008, but tilapia, trout and clams all saw small increases in production output during 2009.

Total value of U.S. aquaculture production was $1.17 billion in 2009, topping $1 billion for the sixth consecutive year but declining slightly from the $1.23 billion value reached in 2008.

The Look Ahead
There are signs of some improvement, or at least stabilization, in selected U.S. wild capture fisheries.

In the Northeast, both the scallop and Maine lobster fisheries have been going strong and are generating a degree of capital reinvestment into boats and gear. But trepidation and uncertainty over a fisheries management shift toward catch shares has kept many more fishermen from making major capital commitments they worry may not be sustainable under new rules.

Imports continue to be a headache for both fishermen and fish farmers, but it is clear they are not going to go away anytime soon.

The U.S. farm-raised catfish industry, which has been locked in a battle for its very survival against imports, may have found a defensive strategy that is working, at least for the farmers still in business.

Dramatically reduced production levels have sent U.S. farm-raised catfish prices soaring to unprecedented highs over the past year. Whether this relief is temporary or permanent remains to be seen.

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