NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — The Whaling City’s bragging rights remain in tact.
The National Marine Fisheries Service — better known as NOAA Fisheries — released its annual report on the health of the nation’s fishing industry on Thursday, and once again the Port of New Bedford took top honors as the nation’s highest-grossing commercial fishing port.
New Bedford ranked No. 1 for the value of seafood landed at its port for the 20th consecutive year in 2019, with $451 million worth of fish hauled in by its boats. That was up by $20 million compared with the year before, and far outpaced the second-ranked Port of Naknek, Alaska, which had $289 million worth of landings.
NOAA officials said New Bedford’s dominance remains driven by sea scallops, which account for 84% of the value of all landings there.
The city fell from the top spot for nine years during the 1990s, which NOAA attributed at the time to factors including “the 1994 collapse of the New England groundfish fishery and declining numbers of sea scallops.” But New Bedford retook its crown in 2000 and hasn’t given it up since.
New Bedford’s catch leads the nation in value despite placing far from the top when it comes to total volume, ranking only 14th, at 116 million pounds. The top port by that metric has been Dutch Harbor, Alaska, for 23 years. Dutch Harbor is 763 million pounds a year of landings, with pollock the biggest category.
But the Dutch Harbor fishing boats’ product was valued at only $190 million, ranking third. Put another way, while New Bedford’s catch was worth $3.89 per pound, Dutch Harbor’s was worth just 25 cents per pound.
The fishing boats at Rhode Island’s Port Judith ranked 12th for value of their catch, at $66 million in 2019, up by $2 million from the prior year. Port Judith ranked 20th by volume, at 48 million pounds.
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“Commercial fishing and the businesses that support it make the Port of New Bedford the economic engine of Southeastern Massachusetts, and a leading food source for America,” New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said in a statement.
“During the pandemic, we have strived to keep our waterfront workforce safe, and so it is encouraging now to see seafood businesses alive with activity as the pandemic begins to subside,” he said. “In the long run, by supporting the prosperity of seafood businesses here, we help to maintain the economic and cultural vitality of our region.”
Congressman Bill Keating, a Democrat who represents New Bedford, offered his congratulations while saying he wasn’t surprised by the news.
“The fresh, high-quality seafood harvested by our world-class fishermen is enjoyed all over the globe,” Keating said in a statement. “With a continued focus on port infrastructure development and sustainability, the Port of New Bedford is charting a course to continue leading for decades to come.”
U.S. Sen. Ed Markey joined in the praise, and noted that Congress has steered more than $50 million to assist Massachusetts fisheries during the pandemic, while saying more is needed.
“This iconic working port supports our vibrant fishing community, and has long served as a critical hub for the country’s blue economy,” Markey, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Massachusetts is in a unique position to harness the new while embracing the historic — this means investing in offshore clean energy jobs, which will further support our maritime resources, all while ensuring that the voices of our fishing communities and ocean economy stakeholders are heard.”
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren added, “This is a testament to the hardworking fishing families of New Bedford, but we cannot forget that some parts of the fishing industry were struggling long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.”
“The fishing and seafood industry are a key part of the Commonwealth’s history, economy, and future, and I and my Massachusetts colleagues worked hard to provide them with federal COVID relief and we will continue to support our fishing community as we recover from this pandemic,” said Warren, a second-term Democrat.
In recent years, Mitchell has been pushing in recent years for NOAA Fisheries to relocate more of its operations from Woods Hole to his city, arguing that federal regulators should be closer to the fishermen who work out of the country’s most lucrative port.
Markey has said he would like to see a way that NOAA Fisheries can expend its presence in New Bedford without Woods Hole losing its own footprint.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Threads, Twitter and Facebook.
An earlier version of this article cited NOAA data showing New Bedford ranked 11th nationally for total volume; the agency later clarified that New Bedford ranked 14th.