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U.S. Fisheries Today
The overall status of fisheries nationally and globally is clearly a problem.
Linda Behnken, Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association
U.S. marine fisheries, from New England to the Gulf of Mexico, to the Western Pacific and Alaska, are as varied and diverse as the regions that support them. They reflect the ecosystems, economies, and histories of their regions, the ethnic traditions and culture of the people who fish them, and the social structure of their communities.
The diversity of fisheries is represented in the number of ways fish are caught and used. It is also reflected in regional differences in the status of fish stocks, the condition of fishery economies and fishing communities, and the state of fishery management.
Types of Fisheries
Fish are caught in four general types of fisheries: commercial, recreational, subsistence, and indigenous. The mix of these fisheries varies from region to region. Information is available on the landings and value of commercial fisheries and is estimated for the number of fishing trips and fish caught in recreational fisheries. Little information is available, for the most part only descriptive, on subsistence and indigenous fisheries.
Commercial fisheries are those in which catches are sold. U.S. commercial fisheries landed 4.2 million metric tons (a little over 9 billion pounds) of edible and industrial seafood at U.S. ports in 1998, continuing the downward trend of the past several years. These landings were valued at $3.1 billion ex-vessel—at point of first sale. An additional 182 thousand metric tons (about 401 million pounds), valued at $165.9 million, were landed at ports outside the United States or delivered to processing vessels at sea. About 78 percent of the fish landed in 1998 were used as fresh and frozen food, with the rest processed into canned and cured products and nonedible fish meal and oil. These proportions have been fairly stable over the recent past. The United States continued as the world's fifth-largest seafood producer in 1998, after China, Peru, Japan, and Chile, accounting for 4.5 percent of the total world catch.
Commercial fisheries are conducted in every U.S. coastal region by people using a range of vessel types, vessel sizes, and gear types. Fishing businesses range from owner-operated family vessels to multi-investor-owned factory trawlers. They also include seafood processors, brokers, transporters, suppliers, and retailers. Alaska routinely leads all states in the volume of landings—more than all other states combined—with 4.9 billion pounds sold for $951 million in 1998. Dutch Harbor–Unalaska, Alaska, was the top producing port in the United States in 1998, where 597 million pounds of fish were landed, valued at $110 million.
Recreational fisheries are those pursued for pleasure and relaxation. Recreational catch includes fish that are retained as well as fish that are released. In 1998 an estimated 17 million marine recreational anglers made over 60 million trips and caught about 312 million fish. Of these, 136 million fish weighing about 195 million pounds were kept. The rest of those caught—more than half—were released alive. For the United States as a whole, recreational landings are small in comparison to commercial landings—about 2.4 percent—although the ratio of recreational to commercial catch varies widely by species and by region. Most recreational anglers, trips, and catches occur on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, where recreational fishing is important and continuing to grow. There are important components of recreational fisheries that overlap with commercial fisheries in the form of businesses such as charter and "head" boats that provide recreational fishing for a fee and businesses such as marine suppliers and hotels that exist to support recreational fishing.
Subsistence fisheries are those conducted for food and other products but not for commercial or recreational use. These fisheries are pursued mostly, but not exclusively, by native peoples. They represent a small proportion of the total catch but are important to particular regions such as Alaska and the Western Pacific for both native and nonnative people.
Indigenous fisheries are established through treaties and other agreements between the federal government, tribal governments, and other native groups. They are concentrated in California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. These fisheries include commercial, subsistence, and ceremonial catches. Treaty tribes are formally represented in Pacific fishery management, where the total catch quotas of salmon and several stocks of groundfish and shellfish include direct treaty allocations. Community development quotas in Western Alaska set aside a portion of the total allowable catch of Bering Sea groundfish and crabs for the mostly native villages. Similar programs were authorized for Hawaii and other U.S. Pacific islands in the Sustainable Fisheries Act, which amended the MFCMA in 1996. Indigenous fisheries are a small proportion of total U.S. landings but are of large importance regionally.
Processing, Trade, and Consumption
American seafood processors produced about $7.4 billion of edible and nonedible fishery products in 1998, about 10 percent less than in 1997, continuing the recent downward trend in domestic processed product. As is usual, edible products accounted for most ($6.8 billion) of processed value. In order of volume, the major processed food products are raw fillets and steaks, fish sticks and portions, and breaded shrimp. Also important are canned fishery products, such as tuna, salmon, clams, and sardines.
The United States imported 3.6 billion pounds of edible seafood products in the form of fresh, frozen, canned, cured, caviar, and roe in 1998. These imports were valued at $8.2 billion, an increase of 308 million pounds and $419 million from the previous year. The increase in seafood imports continued the 1990s trend of an expanding trade imbalance in seafood products. Also increased were imports of industrial fishery products such as fish oils, meal, and scrap, valued at $7.4 billion. The United States imports a greater value of food fish from Canada, Thailand, Ecuador, and Mexico than from other countries, the most valuable of these imports being shrimp.
Exports were valued at $8.7 billion in 1998, a decrease from the previous year. Most fishery exports—about 75 percent—are nonedible fish meals and oils. The most valuable food export products were fresh and frozen salmon, herring roe, surimi (minced fish meat), lobsters, flatfish, canned salmon, shrimp, and crabs, in that order. The United States exports the largest value of seafood to Japan, followed by Canada, the European Union, and other Asian countries.
Americans spent an estimated $49.3 billion for 12.0 billion pounds of domestic and imported fish products in 1998 at restaurants, caterers, grocery stores, and industrial suppliers. Of this supply, most (10.5 billion pounds) was edible food and the rest feed and industrial products. The production and marketing of fish products in 1998 is estimated to have contributed $25.4 billion to the U.S. gross national product, continuing an upward trend.
Americans ate an average of 14.9 pounds of seafood per person in 1998, up slightly from the previous year. Most is fresh and frozen finfish, followed by fresh and frozen shellfish and canned and cured product forms. Consumption of seafood in the United States has remained fairly stable over time at 14.5 to 15.0 pounds per person, a lower quantity than is consumed in many other coastal nations.
Conservation and management of U.S. fishery resources are conducted under the authority of the MSFCMA, Public Law 94-265, as amended. The act has been amended by almost every Congress since its first implementation in 1977 (as the FCMA) to reflect changing management needs and conditions. All fishery resources within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone—the ocean area extending to 200 miles offshore from the seaward boundary of each of the coastal states (generally 3 nautical miles, but 9 nautical miles for Texas, Puerto Rico, and the Gulf coast of Florida)—is covered by this act, as are many highly migratory species whose range extends beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone.
Fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone is managed through regulations developed at state, interstate, federal, and international levels. State, regional, tribal, and federal interests are coordinated in a system of regional fishery management councils, in place since 1977. The management system involves many different fishery interests in decisionmaking. All coastal states, tribes holding treaty fishing rights, and island territories are represented on the councils in eight fishery management regions: New England, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, Western Pacific, Pacific, and North Pacific (see figure 1-1).
Under the MSFCMA, the eight regional fishery management councils are required to prepare fishery management plans for the fisheriesneeding management within their jurisdiction. After plans are prepared, they are submitted to the secretary of commerce for approval, which, in most cases, is delegated to the National Marine Fisheries Service. Regulations contained within fishery management plans are enforced through cooperative actions of the U.S. Coast Guard, National Marine Fisheries Service agents, and state authorities. There are currently 39 approved fishery management plans in place and another 7 in development. All fishery management plans and regulations must be consistent with 10 national standards set out in the law and paraphrased here.
Conservation and management measures shall
1. Prevent overfishing and achieve optimum yield (see chapter 3) on a continuing basis.
2. Be based on the best scientific information available.
3. Manage an individual stock as a unit throughout its range and interrelated stocks as a coordinated unit to the extent practicable.
4. Not discriminate between residents of different states. Allocations between fishermen must be fair, promote conservation, and avoid granting excessive shares.
5. Consider efficiency in utilization of fishery resources where practicable.
6. Allow for variations among and contingencies in fisheries, fishery resources, and catches.
7. Minimize costs and avoid unnecessary duplication where practicable.
8. Take into account the importance of fishery resources to fishing communities to provide for their sustained participation and minimize adverse economic impacts on these communities.
9. Minimize bycatch to the extent practicable and minimize the mortality of unavoidable bycatch.
10. Promote safety at sea.
The Eight Fishery Management Regions
The New England Fishery Management Council manages fisheries in federal waters off the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. The council has 17 voting members—1 from the National Marine Fisheries Service, 5 from state fishery management agencies, and 11 public members appointed by the secretary of commerce. There are 25 stocks under the direct authority of the New England Council. Of these, 11 are overfished, 2 are approaching an overfished condition, 7 are not overfished, and 5 are of unknown status. These stocks are managed under four fishery management plans:
Atlantic Sea Scallop
Atlantic Herring (under review)
The New England Council shares authority with the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council for nine additional stocks. Seven of these (all skates) are of unknown status and are not covered by fishery management plans. The two remaining stocks are managed under joint fishery management plans:
Both of these stocks are overfished. The New England Council has lead management authority over monkfish; the Mid-Atlantic Council over spiny dogfish.
The ports of Gloucester and New Bedford, Massachusetts, are the highest producing in the region. In 1998, the greatest volume of fish was landed at Gloucester—107 million pounds, and the highest valued fish at New Bedford—$94 million.
The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council manages fisheries in federal waters off the coasts of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina and includes the state of Pennsylvania. The council has 21 voting members—1 from the National Marine Fisheries Service, 7 from state fishery agencies, and 13 public members appointed by the secretary of commerce. In addition to the 9 stocks for which authority is shared with the New England Council, the Mid-Atlantic Council is directly responsible for 11 stocks. Of these, 5 are overfished and 6 are not overfished. These stocks are managed under five fishery management plans:
Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass
Atlantic Surf Clam and Ocean Quahog
Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish
Tilefish (under development)
The port of Reedville, Virginia, is the highest producing in the Mid-Atlantic region, where 509 million pounds of fish valued at $42.6 million were landed in 1998.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council manages fisheries in federal waters off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and east Florida. The council has 13 voting members—1 from the National Marine Fisheries Service, 4 from the state fishery agencies, and 8 public members appointed by the secretary of commerce. There are 84 stocks under the direct authority of the South Atlantic Council. Of these, 17 are overfished, 11 are not overfished, and 56 are of unknown status. These stocks are managed under five fishery management plans:
South Atlantic Golden Crab
South Atlantic Shrimp
South Atlantic Snapper-Grouper
Atlantic Coast Red Drum
Coral, Coral Reefs, and Live/Hard Bottom Habitats of the South Atlantic Region
The South Atlantic Council shares authority with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council for 10 additional stocks. Of these, 1 is overfished, 5 are not overfished, and 4 are of unknown status. These stocks are jointly managed by the councils under two fishery management plans:
Gulf of Mexico/South Atlantic Spiny Lobster
Coastal Migratory Pelagics of the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic
The ports of Beaufort, North Carolina, and Key West, Florida, are the highest producing in the South Atlantic region. In 1998, the greatest volume was landed at Beaufort—about 80 million pounds, while landings at Key West had the highest value—almost $45 million.
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council manages fisheries in federal waters off the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and west Florida. The council has 17 voting members—1 from the National Marine Fisheries Service, 5 from the state fishery agencies, and 11 public members appointed by the secretary of commerce. In addition to the 10 stocks managed jointly with the South Atlantic Council, the Gulf Council has 61 stocks under its direct authority. Of these, 4 are overfished, 2 are approaching an overfished condition, 6 are not overfished, and 49 are of unknown status. These stocks are managed through five fishery management plans:
Gulf of Mexico Stone Crab
Shrimp Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico
Coral and Coral Reefs of the Gulf of Mexico
Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico Red Drum
The port of Empire–Venice, Louisiana, is the highest producing in the Gulf of Mexico region, where 328 million pounds of fish valued at over $38 million were landed in 1998.
The Caribbean Fishery Management Council manages fisheries in federal waters off the coasts of the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The council has 8 voting members—1 from the National Marine Fisheries Service, 3 from the state fishery agencies of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and 4 public members appointed by the secretary of commerce. There are 179 stocks under the direct authority of the Caribbean Council. Of these, 3 are overfished, 1 is not overfished, and 175 are of unknown status. These stocks are managed under four fishery management plans:
Spiny Lobster Fishery of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
Reef Fish Fishery of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
Queen Conch Resources of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
Corals and Reef Associated Invertebrates of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
Excerpted from Fishing Grounds by Susan Hanna, Heather Blough, Richard Allen, Suzanne Tudicello, Gary Matlock, Bonnie McCay. Copyright © 2000 Island Press. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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