WASHINGTON (FNS) -- A long-term plan from the Clinton administration to rebuild severely depleted stocks of cod and haddock off the New England coast will reduce supplies even more for several years and could drive up retail prices by as much as 50%, according to one estimate.
Concerned that years of overfishing had reduced cod and haddock breeding stock to levels where the fish could disappear entirely within several years, the White House last week announced the creation of a $30 million program. Funded through two Commerce Department agencies, the program aims to reduce fishing fleet activities by half off the Georges Bank through the year 2003. The money will be used to help the 20,000 Massachusetts workers whose livelihoods depend on cod and haddock fishing find other work, or catch other types of fish.
Officials with the New England Fishery Management Council, Saugus, Mass., which evaluated the plan, say groundfish catches should be down by 10% per year through 1999, but then rise, eventually higher than 1993 levels.
The Council has shied away from forecasting the effect the forced reduced-catch plan will have on retail fish and seafood prices. Philip Haring, a fishery analyst for the Council, noted New England fishing fleets may step up their take of other species, such as whiting, mackeral and dogfish, offsetting lower cod and haddock takes.
But Rick Marks, East Coast representative with the National Fisheries Institute, the Washington-based industry lobbying group, said most of the new federal aid would be used to help those affected by the fishing reduction find another line of work, adding that this was bound to have an effect at the supermarket.
"With the reduced catch, cod and haddock prices of about $6 a pound could be driven up to around $9" a pound, Marks said. Haring and other Council officials declined to comment on Marks' forecast.
The new federal fishing restrictions, which are mandatory, follow a precipitous decline in catches of cod and haddock. Total cod take plummeted by 34.4% in 1992, and probably fell another 20% last year, according to federal agencies. Haddock catches have averaged one-third what they were in the early and mid-1980s. In recent years retailers have sought alternative sources for popular fish as traditional supplies dwindled.