The U.S. seafood catch reached a 17-year high last year, with Wesport showing up as one of the top producing ports on the West Coast, and all fishing regions of the country showing increases in both the volume and value of their harvests.
Nationwide, commercial fishermen last year caught 10.1 billion pounds of fish and shellfish valued at a record $5.3 billion, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That’s a 23 percent increase in catch by weight and a 17 percent increase in value over 2010.
New Bedford, Mass., was the highest-valued port for the 12th straight year, due largely to its scallop fishery. Dutch Harbor, Alaska, was the No. 1 port for seafood volume for the 15th year in a row.
Westport was 13th in the nation for quantity of landings (116 million pounds in 2011, compared to 101 million pounds in 2010, and 16th in the nation in terms of value ($61 million in 2011, compared to $39 million in 2010).
On the West Coast, outside of Alaska, only the ports of Los Angeles (157 million pounds last year), Astoria, Ore. (144 million) and Port Hueneme-Oxnard-Ventura, Calif. (128 million) had a higher quantity.
But of those same West Coast ports, Westport’s landings had the highest dollar value. Astoria, for example, reported dollar values of $44 million in 2011 and $31 million in 2010.
For Westport, this year also has been a success on most fronts, especially for crab and shrimp.
“Whiting is down this year, but sardines are up,” said Richard Carroll, executive vice president with Ocean Gold Seafoods, which is now the Port of Grays Harbor’s largest employer as a tenant. “We’ve relied on whiting for most of our growth and our revenues. This year we have had a real good opportunity to develop our potential in the sardine fisheries.”
Carroll said the resources and the fish stocks are strong off the Washington Coast.
“We have a lot of very, very healthy resources off the West Coast and they are probably healthiest off the Washington Coast,” Carroll said.
Ocean Gold, he noted, has been expanding steadily since 1997 when it built its Westport whiting plant. The company built its fish meal plant in Hoquiam, a cold-storage and a secondary processing plant in Westport, Carroll said.
“We have definitely been in a growth mode,” Carroll said.
Port of Grays Harbor Executive Director Gary Nelson said the statistics that show Westport as one of the leading fishing ports on the West Coast have been steadily increasing over the past several years.
“It’s just amazing to me, and sometimes you just take it for granted,” Nelson said. “The other thing that’s amazing is how many people are employed out there, certainly during the main processing season. I’m sure they are pushing 800 people or so.”
The increases in the landings are evidence that fish populations are rebuilding nationwide, said Sam Rauch, deputy assistant administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “Overall, nationally, the numbers are very good news,” Rauch said in an Associated Press report. “But we don’t want to miss the fact that there are parts of the industry that are or soon will be suffering economic pain.”
Alaska led all states by far in catch volume, with 5.4 billion pounds, followed by Louisiana, California, Virginia and Washington, according to the report. Alaska was also tops in the value of its catch, at $1.9 billion, followed by Massachusetts, Maine, Louisiana and Washington.
Fishermen brought 706 million pounds of product to Dutch Harbor, the leading port by volume, while New Bedford, the top port by value, had $369 million worth of seafood cross its docks.
All nine of NOAA’s fishing regions saw the volume and value of their catches go up in 2011. The numbers nationally were boosted by sharp increases for Gulf of Mexico menhaden, Alaska pollock and Pacific hake, also known as whiting.
The report also showed that Americans ate an average of 15 pounds of seafood per person in 2011, down from 15.8 pounds in 2010.
Carroll said a state-sponsored study of the economic impact of the commercial fishing industry found that 35,000 jobs are tied directly or indirectly to fishing.
“It’s a significant industry, and it’s almost all export-oriented,” Carroll said. “It’s one of those drivers that makes the Washington economy such an important economy in the world.”