New Bedford fishermen navigate waves of uncertainty in age of coronavirus

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NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — On the ocean, fishermen know the uncertainty they’re up against on each trip: Mother Nature. They face brutal weather and, at times, a bad catch. However, it’s on land right now that they’re currently navigating an uncharted sea of uncertainty.

Danny Eilertsen owns Nordic Inc., a fleet of six scallop boats docked at Fish Island in New Bedford.

He said they fish for scallops all year, but the scallop season really begins April 1. Ironically, he said, right now is great at sea — a healthy catch and cold waters. Yet when they come back with tens of thousands of pounds of scallops, they’re selling to a completely different market in the age of coronavirus.

“Scallops on the menu at restaurants now are a staple, they’ve been a staple for quite a few years. Pretty much every restaurant you go to has scallops, and that’s just stopped. So the fresh market for us is gone and that’s probably where the value has lost so much this last month, couple of months here,” Eilertsen said.

He says now, they’re selling at auction at 30 to 40 percent lower costs, and most of the product is put in the freezer to be sold at supermarkets or other markets around the world.

Fishing is vital to the City of New Bedford. In fact, Port of New Bedford Director Edward Anthes-Washburn told Eyewitness News that the port brought in $11.1 billion annually, making it the number one port in the country, financially speaking. He says a majority of that money comes from the fishing industry.

Day boats are finding another way to make profits and keep fishermen employed, thanks in large part to a group called Southcoast Direct Source Seafood. The group is a liaison of sorts, between customers and boat captains.

Captains can post when they plan on going fishing and then update with their catch. Then, customers log onto the group’s website and pre-order lobster or scallops, that way it’s already reserved and paid for when the boat pulls in.

Customers are alerted when the boat is expected to dock and drive to the pier to pick up their order. Right now, the going rate for fresh scallops off the boat is 15 dollars per pound.

Anthes-Washburn says the city is currently helping fishermen and others in the industry by providing them with resources available from the federal government.

That information can be found here »

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