The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

February 19, 2013

Fishing's decline looms; will fish eaters notice?

(Continued)

For fish consumers, a sharp drop in the local groundfish catch may jar a select group of diners who seek fish caught that day. But the cut's effects may not ripple further than that.

Just 9 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States is domestically caught, the federal government estimates. In New England, locally caught cod was just a slightly larger fraction of all cod eaten, 12 percent, according to fisheries economist Jenny Sun of the Portland, Maine-based Gulf of Maine Research Institute. And she estimates that could drop to 4 percent after the coming cuts.

Much of the imported cod is caught and frozen in Norway and cut in China, and there's plenty of it, Sun said. If the local cod catch dips to near nothing, fish processors "could easily fill in with imports," Sun said.

In fact, the biggest issue for one Maine seafood processing executive has been the perception that the New England industry's troubles mean he won't have fish.

But prices will likely change little after the cuts because substitutes are plentiful, said Chris Fream, senior sales executive at North Atlantic Inc., a processor in Portland, Maine.

"The sky certainly isn't falling because a) we knew it was coming and b) we've prepared for it and there's other species that are around," he said.

The remaining fishermen have limited options. The Northeast's groundfish fleet had 420 boats in 2011, a drop of 150 in just two years, and many of those who continue to fish do so because they have no choice.

Scituate fisherman Frank Mirarchi noted wryly that, at 69, he has few employment options. The fishermen he cooperates with, pooling quota and resources, have discussed taking even more boats out of the water and trying to hang in with whatever they can catch.

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