ELLSWORTH — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its annual Fisheries of the United States report for 2015 last week and, by almost any measure, the news was good.
Whether they are more health-conscious or some other factors came into play, the per capita consumption of fish and shellfish last year was 15.5 pounds. That’s an increase of just under a pound over the 14.6 pounds of seafood (and freshwater fish) Americans consumed in 2014.
All that good eating — if you included goodies like fried catfish, breaded scallops and fish sticks — didn’t come cheap. U.S. consumers spent some $96 billion for the products from various fisheries last year.
What was good for the nation’s consumers was good for the economy, too. The commercial marine fishing industry contributed about $48.7 billion to the domestic Gross National Product — including the “value added” aspects of the industry such as processing.
The commercial fishing industry had a strong year in terms of volume in 2015 but, in some fisheries, prices dropped enough to affect the “ex-vessel” price across all fisheries.
All commercial landings increased 2.4 percent from 2014 to a total of 9.7 pounds. Finfish represented 88 percent of landings, but just 46 percent of landed value — reflecting the high value of species such as lobster and scallops.
A closer look at the numbers shows that U.S. fishermen landed almost 7.8 billion pounds of edible fish and shellfish at ports within the 50 states — down 78 million pounds from 2014. Stateside landings of fish for industrial uses (animal feed, agricultural and other products) were almost 2 billion pounds, up 19 percent from the year before.
American lobster landings were 145.9 million pounds valued at $617.2 million — a decrease of 1.9 million pounds (over 1 percent), but an increase of $50.6 million (nearly 9 percent) compared with 2014. Maine led in landings for the 34th consecutive year with 121.7 million pounds valued at more than $498.4 million — a decrease of 2.4 million pounds (nearly 2 percent) compared with 2014. Massachusetts, the second leading producer, had landings of 16.4 million pounds valued at $78.3 million — an increase of 1.1 million pounds (over 7 percent) compared with 2014. Together, Maine and Massachusetts produced almost 95 percent of the total national landings. The average ex-vessel price per pound was $4.23 in 2015, compared with $3.83 in 2014.
Landed value tells only a part of the story of what lobsters are worth.
In 2015, the United States exported more than 114 million pounds of fresh and frozen lobster, worth some $687 million, around the world. Unsurprisingly, China was the biggest market, buying some 8.6 million pounds of fresh and frozen lobster worth more than $58.9 million. Perhaps more surprising, Italy was the second most active buyer, taking more than 7.3 million pounds worth in excess of $54.7 million. Spain, France and the United Kingdom were other major European Union lobster buyers.
In New England, Maine had the second largest volume of commercial landings (233.8 million pounds) after Massachusetts (261.1 million pounds.) Those totals were a far cry from landings when the New England fishing industry was at its peak.
In 1950, the best year on record, Maine fishermen landed about 356.3 million pounds of fin and shellfish. Two years earlier, Massachusetts landings peaked at almost 649.7 million pounds
Volume aside, Maine was the leader among New England states in terms of the value of its fisheries landings — about $588 million.
Portland was Maine’s busiest port, with landings of 62 million pounds, up 5 million pounds over 2014. Dutch Harbor, Alaska, was the nation’s busiest port, with landings of about 787 million pounds.
Stonington once again led Maine in terms of the value of its landings — about $64 million, 14th highest in the nation. The port at the tip of Deer Isle ranked 38th nationally in terms of landings volume.