New Bedford again tops nation for dollar value of fishing catch

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NEW BEDFORD — The city’s port has again topped the country for dollar value of its fishing catch, NOAA Fisheries reported this week, citing 2015 landings worth $322 million.

That marks 16 years in a row that New Bedford has held the top-value title, which is thanks largely to scallops. Dutch Harbor, Alaska, again was tops for total volume of catch, landing 787 million pounds last year.

New Bedford’s catch was much smaller: 124 million pounds, good for only 11th in the country and far behind Dutch Harbor. But Dutch Harbor’s catch had a value of $218 million — second-highest in the country — reflecting the strong commercial value of New Bedford’s scallop industry.

“The scallop industry has put New Bedford at the top of the food chain, as it were, of fishing ports for the last 16 years — that’s a very impressive streak,” said Ed Anthes-Washburn, port director for the city’s Harbor Development Commission. “It really shows the impact of scallops but also the impact of cooperative research.”

In the 1990s, SMAST scientists Brian Rothschild and Kevin Stokesbury pioneered innovations in counting scallops, with cameras tested and used on local scallopers. The resulting data affected stock assessments by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), ultimately leading to larger catch quotas and helping secure steady catches for waterfront businesses.

Many local fishermen credit the scientists and their teams with reviving the regional scallop industry.

“The reason scallops are so valuable is because our businesses were able to build business plans around the catch,” Anthes-Washburn said. “We’re reaping the benefits of good cooperative science, and solid relationships between the regulators, the fishermen and the scientists. I think it shows you what can happen when fishermen are a big part of the data collection.

“It’s the model that we’re (now) trying to use for the groundfish industry,” Anthes-Washburn said.

The annual catch reports, released by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, showed that New Bedford’s catch dipped by about 11 percent last year, falling from 140 million pounds in 2014 to 124 million in 2015. The 2013 catch totaled 130 million pounds.

Dollar value dipped, as well, but only by about 2 percent, from $329 million in 2014 to $322 million in 2015. New Bedford’s catch in 2013 had a value of $379 million.

Keeping those numbers up not only will be vital for the fishing industry and regional economy, but also for city leaders, who often tout the port’s top status when representing and promoting New Bedford at events in other areas.

“When I speak to audiences outside the city, I never miss an opportunity to proclaim that New Bedford is America’s top commercial fishing port,” Mayor Jon Mitchell said Friday. “We’re proud of the success of an industry that is central both to our region’s economy and its identity, and we as a community must continue to support its vitality in the long run.”

Port director lands key economic post

Ed Anthes-Washburn, port director for the city’s Harbor Development Commission, has been named to a two-year term as chairman of the American Association of Port Authorities’ (AAPA) Maritime Economic Development Committee, the city announced Friday.

The AAPA advocates for the seaport industry in the Americas and includes more than 130 public port authorities, in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America.

“The Port of New Bedford is the center of the commercial fishing industry on the East Coast, the launching pad for America’s offshore wind industry, and a dynamic and diverse economic engine for Massachusetts,” Mayor Jon Mitchell said. “The naming of (Anthes-Washburn) to an important leadership role at the AAPA is a recognition of the national significance of our port, and Ed’s exemplary work in helping develop it into its full potential.”

Anthes-Washburn said his goal as chairman will be to foster strong relationships and increase dialogue between ports across the nation and beyond.

“As director of the most valuable fishing port in the country, I am honored to represent New Bedford at the national level and help further strengthen the economic impact of the Port of New Bedford, as well as ports throughout Canada and the Americas,” he said.

Anthes-Washburn, 31, was appointed port director in October 2015. He had served as interim director since June 2015, when former director Jeffrey Stieb stepped down, and also was interim director in September 2012, before Stieb took the position. He previously was the Harbor Development Commission’s director of operations from 2010 to 2012.

Mike Lawrence