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RI Fishing Industry Faces Extinction under Federal Regulations

Thursday, December 12, 2013

 

It’s hard to image an Ocean State without a commercial fishing industry, but one local business owner warns it could happen.

Increasingly restrictive federal regulations have cut the commercial fishing fleet in half over the last four years and are imperiling its future, according to Richard Fuka, the president of the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance.

“We’re at a dangerous low level,” Fuka said. If the fleet is diminished any further, Rhode Islanders could see a local heritage industry “slip away” and become “a museum piece,” Fuka says. Further tightening federal regulations he says could be just thing that pushes the industry over the edge, according to Fuka. (See below slides for data on the decline.)

Fuka said things took a decided turn for the worse after President Obama took office and his new appointee for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agenda has pursued a more aggressive regulatory agenda. But he says the industry was already chafing under regulations passed in the later years of the Bush administration.

Fishing contributes more than half a billion to RI economy

Data from an October 2011 study conducted by Cornell University confirm that the commercial fishing industry in Rhode Island was in decline, even before the full effect of the new regulations was felt. The number of state-licensed boats dropped from 1,488 to 1,298 between 2005 and 2011. Likewise, the demand for many state licenses has dried up. In 2011 the state issued 1,017 multi-purpose licenses. In 2011, it issued 867.

Credit: David Beutel/URI Sea Grant

The decline in the Rhode Island fishing fleet is taking an economic toll as well: between 2006 and 2010, sales of locally caught fish dropped from $98.5 million to $60.4 million, according to the study. It was apparently the worst year since 1982, when sales were $56.7 million, in an absolute dollars-to-dollars comparison. But when those 1982 figures are adjusted for inflation, sales that year were actually $126 million, researchers found.

The fishing industry is a vital economic sector for Rhode Island. In 2010, commercial fishing generated a total of $763.3 million in sales and $239.9 million in income, when its indirect impact on distributors, restaurants, and grocers is taken into account, according to the study. The number of jobs related to the industry stood at 8,995.

The local restaurant industry is particularly reliant on commercial fishing, which generated $52.3 million in sales and $86.2 million in income for restaurants, along with 4,207 jobs, the data shows.

Congressmen push back at federal level

“The importance of the fishing and marine trades industries to our state’s economy cannot be overstated, and I am very concerned about the problems facing fishermen today,” Congressman Jim Langevin said in a statement provided to GoLocalProv. “Despite our fishermen adhering to strict catch limits designed to prevent overfishing, stock rebuilding has been unexpectedly slow. We must look at all factors affecting stock recovery, including environmental variables such as climate change.”

Langevin, whose district encompasses many of the communities with large fishing ports, said he has been an advocate for increased funding for local fisheries, especially funds from disaster-relief sources.

He has also jointed with Senator Jack Reed to introduce a measure known as the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Fairness Act, which he said would “give our state’s fishery professionals a stronger voice” in the industry. “The legislation would create two new spots for Rhode Island on the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, so our fishermen have a say in the management of fish stocks important to the Rhode Island economy, including squid, mackerel and butterfish,” Langevin said.

So far, however, the bill has not made much headway in Congress. The House version of the measure was assigned to committee on April 11, 2013 and no action is recorded as being taken on it since then, according to the Web site govtrack.us. The Senate version, which was introduced on the same date, hasn’t made it past committee either, Congressional records show.

Kilmartin argues that federal regulators ignore economic impact

The deepening concern over the future of fishing in Rhode Island also led state Attorney General Peter Kilmartin this week to file a court brief in support of a Massachusetts lawsuit against federal regulations that impose lower quotas on certain types of groundfish—fish like cod, halibut, and haddock which are found near the bottom of the sea floor. The new quotas threaten to drop the amount of fish Bay State fishermen can catch by 77 percent, according to Kilmartin’s office.

In his brief, Kilmartin said federal regulators did not properly account for the economic impact of the new regulations.

Because local fishermen have a more diverse stock of fish, the impact of the quotas—which apply to the region stretching from New York to Maine—will be less severe in Rhode Island. “We have a much more diverse fleet, so we’re able to weather this storm even though this lawsuit is extremely important to us,” Fuka said.

Kilmartin is hoping to pre-empt federal regulators from taking similar steps here, according to spokeswoman Amy Kempe. “It could just as easily be Rhode Island next time,” Kempe said.

“For now it appears that Rhode Island will most likely escape the devastating impact that the Commonwealth is facing,” Kilmartin says in the brief. “However, it is clear that if the Secretary [of Commerce] imposed the same draconian reductions upon Rhode Island’s top commercial landings, the impact would be devastating to the Rhode Island Fishing community.”

Although fishing conditions are different, Rhode Island fishermen can relate to battle of Massachusetts fishermen against federal regulators, Fuka said. “We went through the same kind of genocide, so to speak,” he said.

The federal regulations at issue

The regulation Rhode Island fishermen find particularly burdensome is known as “catch-share.” It’s a system that allocates certain quotas of fish to groups of fishermen from New York to Maine. Those groups decide how to divvy up the their share of the fish quotas they are allowed, according to Maggie Mooney-Seus, a public affairs officer for NOAA’s Northeast Regional Office, in Gloucester, Mass.

Fuka said the catch-share program is inflexible because it bases quotas on historical records for the numbers of different species caught by local boats. Mooney-Seus, on the other hand, said catch-share is a more flexible alternative to even stricter groundfish quotas that were developed in 2010. Generally speaking, those quotas impose limits on individual boats, rather on groups of fishermen.

Mooney-Seus said fishermen in the northeast region have the choice to operate under the individual quotas or participate in the catch-share program. Rhode Island fishermen are represented in both programs, she said.

Mooney-Seus said the goal of the regulations is the rebuilding of depleted fish stocks, in compliance with certain criteria spelled out in federal law. “The quotas are strict and the quotas have been cut—and pretty drastically since 2010,” Mooney-Seus said.

Even though environmental factors, rather than overfishing, may be behind some drops in fish populations, she said the only tool NOAA has at its disposal is regulations on fishing quotas. So, if the agency sees a fish struggling to come back, it must reduce the effort to fish that species, she said.

The quotas are developed on a regional rather than a state-by-state basis. All the fishermen in the region cannot fish a species beyond that quota. Fishing efforts regionally are tracked and coordinated through a thorough system of recordkeeping. (Each boat must keep a log of what it catches and discards and the fish houses that buy what they keep also must keep logs. Boats also are equipped with black boxes which allow government authorities to track their movements, according to Fuka.)

NOAA data shows deep cuts in the regional quotas of fish, which typically change each fishing year (May 1 to April 30). For example, in 2012, fishermen from Southern New England to Down East Maine could haul in 162 metric tons of cod fish off George’s Bank—a large elevated area of the sea floor about 60 miles offshore between Cape Cod and Nova Scotia. In 2013, that quota (or catch limit) was cut nearly in half—to 92 metric tons.

Some of the most severe cuts were for haddock found off Georges Bank, for which the catch limit in 2013 plummeted by 71 percent of what was allowed in 2012. For the yellowtail flounder, the reduction was 68.5 percent.

On a regional level, however, a closer look at the data suggests that quotas are not as restrictive as they might seem. For example, while regional fishermen were allowed 162 metric tons of cod off Georges Bank in 2012, they only took in 67.5 metric tons. Presumably, then, a catch limit of 92 metric tons would not necessarily alter their catch.

However, the figures Mooney-Seus provided were for the entire region of groundfish her office monitors, which stretches from New York to Maine. On a smaller scale, those limits could force deep cuts into local fishing efforts. For example, while the regional stock of cod has been severely depleted, the stock in one area (such as Gloucester, Mass.) might be thriving. From their point of view, the new quotas might seem to be an unnecessary and undue burden on their business.

“To some degree, it is still a matter of perspective,” Mooney-Seus said.

Stephen Beale can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @bealenews

 

Related Slideshow: RI Fishing Industry’s Decline by the Numbers

The Rhode Island commercial fishing industry is in trouble. A study conducted in 2011 by Cornell University offered a portrait of an industry in crisis, with declines in sales, fishing vessels, and many types of permits. That study also showed how important the preservation of the fishing industry is to the state economy. Below are key figures on the decline and current state of the fishing industry in Rhode Island excerpted from the study. Some data is also taken from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Sales from Catches

2006 to 2010 Change

Reduction: $38.1 million

Percent Change: 38.6%

 

2006 sales: $98.5 million

2010 sales: $60.4 million

 

Last year sales were below $60 million: 1982

1982 sales adjusted for inflation: $126 million

 

Source: Cornell University Cooperative Extension Marine Program

Photo: Flickr/kamsky

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State-Licensed Boats

2005 to 2011 Change

Decline in # of Licensed Vessels: 190

Percent Change: -12.7%

 

Number of State-Licensed Vessels

2005: 1,488

2011: 1,298

 

Source: Cornell University Cooperative Extension Marine Program

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State Licenses Issued

Multi-purpose License

2006 to 2011 Change

Decline in # of Licenses: 150

Percent change: -14.7%

 

Number of State Licenses Issued By Year

2006: 1,017

2007: 973

2008: 939

2009: 917

2010: 887

2011: 867

 

Source: Cornell University Cooperative Extension Marine Program

Photo: Flickt/Eric Molina

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Federally-Licensed Boats

Decline in # of Licensed Vessels: 8

Percent Change: -2.1%

 

Number of Federally-Licensed Boats

2005: 367

2010: 359

 

Source: Cornell University Cooperative Extension Marine Program

Photo: Flickr/James Brooks

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Groundfishing Vessels '09

Point Judith Total: 32

Rhode Island Total: 60

Connecticut Total: 8

Massachusetts Total: 312

Northeast Total: 570

 

Note: Groundfish are those that dwell on the bottom of the sea. They include fish such as cod, halibut, haddock, and flounder. The Northeast includes the coastal New England states along with New York and New Jersey. Only those vessels that had revenue from at least one groundfish trip are counted.

Source: NOAA

Photo: Flickr/Liz West

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Groundfishing Vessels '11

Point Judith Total: 28

Rhode Island Total: 49

Connecticut Total: 5

Massachusetts Total: 224

Northeast Total: 420


Note: Groundfish are those that dwell on the bottom of the sea. They include fish such as cod, halibut, haddock, and flounder. The Northeast includes the coastal New England states along with New York and New Jersey. Only those vessels that had revenue from at least one groundfish trip are counted.

Source: NOAA

Photo: Flickr/bob19156

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Groundfishing Vessels % Decline

% Change 2009-20011

 

Point Judith: -12.5%

Rhode Island: -18.3%

Connecticut: -37.5%

Massachusetts: -28.2%

Northeast Total: -26.3%


Note: Groundfish are those that dwell on the bottom of the sea. They include fish such as cod, halibut, haddock, and flounder. The Northeast includes the coastal New England states along with New York and New Jersey. Only those vessels that had revenue from at least one groundfish trip are counted.

Source: GoLocalProv analysis of NOAA data.

Photo: Flick/NickSarebi

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Groundfishing Value

Change 2007 to 2010: -$7.8 million

Percent Change 2007 to 2010: -22.4%

 

Values by Year

2007: $34.7 million

2008: $30.8 million

2009: $23.5 million

2010: $26.9 million

 

Note: Above data is for groundfishing by permitted vessels which are home-ported in Rhode Island. Annual data corresponds to the fishing year, which is from May 1 of one calendar year to April 30 of the next.

Source: Cornell University Cooperative Extension Marine Program

Photo: Flickr/BrianPocius

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Groundfishing Jobs

Change 2007 to 2010: -48

Percent Change 2007 to 2010: -15.9%

 

Number of Crew Positions by Year

2007: 301

2008: 278

2009: 268

2010: 253

 

Note: Data above are the totals for the Rhode Island home-ported vessels engaged in groundfishing. Annual data corresponds to the fishing year, which is from May 1 of one calendar year to April 30 of the next.

Source: Cornell University Cooperative Extension Marine Program

Photo: Flickr/Ted Kerwin

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Groundfishing Trips

Change 2007 to 2010: -3,492

Percent Change 2007 to 2010: -21.3%

 

Number of Crew Positions by Year

2007: 16,353

2008: 14,515

2009: 13,676

2010: 12,861

 

Note: Crew trips provide an indicator of changes in earnings, as crew members are typically paid per trip. A decline in trips corresponds to a decline in opportunities to share in trip earnings. Data above are the totals for the Rhode Island home-ported vessels engaged in groundfishing. Annual data corresponds to the fishing year, which is from May 1 of one calendar year to April 30 of the next.

Source: Cornell University Cooperative Extension Marine Program

Photo: Flickr/Mike Baird

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Fish Sales: Economic Value

Total Contribution in 2010

Sales: $150.3 million

Income: $106.3 million

Jobs: 4,968

 

Economic Areas Benefitting

Harvesting

Primary Dealers/Processors

Restaurants

Grocers

 

Note: Data shows the economic contributions of sales from catches that are sold in Rhode Island to the state economy. Complete data over a period of time was not available from the sources used. The data is meant simply to show the importance of the fishing industry to the overall economy.

Source: Cornell University Cooperative Extension Marine Program

Photo: Flickr/vv@ldzen

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Fish Sales: Value to Restaurants

Economic Contributions in 2010

Sales: $8.7 million

Income: $5.2 million

Jobs: 2,811

 

Note: Data shows the economic contributions of sales from catches that are sold in Rhode Island to the state economy. The specific contribution made to the restaurant industry is shown above. Complete data over a period of time was not available from the sources used. The data is meant simply to show the importance of the fishing industry to the overall economy.

Source: Cornell University Cooperative Extension Marine Program

Photo: Flickr/A. Davey

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Commercial Fishing: Total Economic Value

Comprehensive Estimate of Commercial Fishing’s Total Contribution to RI Economy in 2010

Sales: $763.3 million

Income: $239.9 million

Jobs: 8,995

 

Note: Data shows the total contribution the commercial fishing industry makes to the Rhode Island economy. Complete data over a period of time was not available from the sources used. The data is meant simply to show the importance of the fishing industry to the overall economy.

Source: Cornell University Cooperative Extension Marine Program

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Commercial Fishing: Value to Restaurants

Comprehensive Estimate of Commercial Fishing’s Total Contribution to the Restaurant Industry in 2010

Sales: $34.9 million

Income: $57.6 million

Jobs: 2,811

 

Note: Data shows the total contribution the commercial fishing industry makes to the Rhode Island economy. Above, the specific contribution the commercial fishing industry makes to the restaurant industry is shown. Complete data over a period of time was not available from the sources used. The data is meant simply to show the importance of the fishing industry to the overall economy.

Source: Cornell University Cooperative Extension Marine Program

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RI Seafood Industry Job Decline

Seafood Commercial Establishments and Employees

Change from 2005 to 2008

Change in # Establishments: -6

Change in # Employees: -63

 

Changes in Jobs by Year

2005: 714

2006: 646

2007: 602

2008: 651

 

Source: Cornell University Cooperative Extension Marine Program

 
 

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Comments:

When are the voters of RI gonna wise up? Kick all the liberals, democrats, environmental wackos out. The Obama administration is a disaster for EVERY industry, with 3300 new regulations (which by-pass Congress' law making authority) The 3300 new rules and regulations will cost us $1.8 Trillion!!! in business. We need JOBS!!!

Comment #1 by joe pregiato on 2013 12 12

Here is the news I'm referencing: http://www.bubblews.com/news/1742964-new-government-regulations-to-cost-18-trillion

Comment #2 by joe pregiato on 2013 12 12

The problem is the opposite of what Joe says, inadequate regulation to prevent overfishing, and so many fish stocks are in decline.

This is a well known aspect of "tragedy of the commons." Without regulation, each fisherman will reason it is to my self interest to get the fish before someone else does. But every fisherman reasoning this way results in depleting the resource. There is no use appealing to conscience or voluntary restraint, that only penalizes those with a conscience. The only solution is adequate enforcable regulation, made more diffcult by the legitimate concerns of fisherman trying to make a living, the politicians pandering to short-term interest rather than rebuilding the stocks, and the rabid right-wing that hates conservation and regulation that has also succeeded in cutting budgets for the scientific reearch needed.

Comment #3 by barry schiller on 2013 12 12

Barry, did you bother reading the article? Or just spewing your "government can solve your problem" druel? OVER REGULASTION IS KILLING THE INDUSTRY! The FISHERMAN SAY IT, (but
you know better)

Comment #4 by joe pregiato on 2013 12 12

Joe Pregiato -

Barry is just being Barry. We're not running out of fish. But it's been well understood that for decades the government has been killing the fishing industry by a thousand nicks.

No one seems to have any problem with foreign ships loading up to the gunn'ls with fish in nearby grounds, just we bad Americans can't do it.

Anyone who's worked in the industry, had family or friends in it or even done a slight bit of research into it knows this: regulators have been at war with commercial fishermen for decades.

Comment #5 by paul zecchino on 2013 12 12

Thanks Paul. How silly of me. I thought Barry was actually trying to solve a problem.

Comment #6 by joe pregiato on 2013 12 12

Barry, it's useless to argue with or try to inform the GoLoCo All StarsTM. All our problems are the result of a liberal conspiracy run by unions and communists. I just read a post by Mr. Zecchino. I have to take a shower now.

Comment #7 by Jonathan Flynn on 2013 12 13

Don't worry Flynn, We conservatives rarely win in RI. You have everything you want here. It's wonderful: Reasonable taxes, not too many taxpayers leaving the state, plenty of govt entitlement programs, only 7 of 10 RI college grads leaving the state, a business friendly environment, No corrupt polititions, sustainable union contracts, (I'm not sure about this one--Have you done the math?)unemployment lower than 2 other states...Why it's a veritable Nirvana here....you would NEVER want to live in New Hampshire!, y'know, all that "Live free or die" stuff!

Comment #8 by joe pregiato on 2013 12 13

Joe,

You hit Jonathan right between the eyes. But don't expect common sense to sink in.

Maybe this IS the liberal Nirvana with only Detroit being more Nirvana-ish.

Comment #9 by Art West on 2013 12 13

Thanks Art. I always read and enjoy your thoughtful commentary!

Comment #10 by joe pregiato on 2013 12 13




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