In the late 1980’s the Groundfish ( Haddock , Cod , Pollock , Sole , Flounder ) resource off of the New England coast collapsed. A thriving industry was brought to its knees by overfishing, first by large foreign vessels fishing off of our coast, then later by an overly invested local industry which overbuilt and overfished in response to government subsidies and loan guarantees meant to replace the foreign fishing effort with an influx of US owned, US captained vessels. The one / two punch and the Law of Unintended consequences lead to the local fisheries demise.
Fast forward 30 years later, and a lot of heart ache, further government intervention ( boat buybacks – good , regulated fishing “days at sea “ and quota cuts – controversial ), and concerted effort under the bridge and we find a fully recovered MSC certified Haddock, Pollock, and Arcadian Redfish fishery off of New England coast. But who knew? I found out after a funeral for a friend, talking shop in the church parking lot. Not only had the MSC certification been established but government grants had been secured to retrofit a cutting facility on the Gloucester waterfront. The fish was back and some infrastructure was in place to get it to market!
But the silence was almost deafening. How could we be in a position of full recovery of fisheries that used to fuel a high percentage of the Countries total seafood requirements and have no one talking about it, marketing it, selling it ?
The fast answer was that it has been missing for too long. The market had back-filled the need and replaced it with viable and well accepted alternatives like MSC fresh Icelandic product and West Coast re-freshed whitefish. It is no secret that strong franchises have been built around these resources, and the resurgence of the New England resource would be disruptive to the status quo. Fortunately, there are many progressive and forward thinking consumer facing Companies remaining who are very receptive to taking up the Local story, the high quality, and frankly the attractive market value of this fish. And they tried it. And it was good. And it was in collaboration with committed fishing captains and their vessels, a local waterfront Company making considerable investment in money and time, experienced managers and a small but very experienced crew of hand cutters and packers.
A new Community Based model was being formed and brought forward. “ Let’s get it right the first time, let’s develop the market as we tap the resource, let’s bring rational and stable pricing to support promotion and growth, let’s find partners to remind the market how excellent and important local haddock, perch and pollock can be, let’s do it together “. The early returns have been promising.
And a funny thing happened along the way. The government and industry found itself aligned in support of the resource and its management.
Last week, a NOAA representative attended and actively participated in a North Atlantic / Bali Seafoods sponsored meeting with a large, highly reputable, and progressive retail customer. He actively and effectively presented the findings regarding the health of the resource, how it would look to be managed going forward, and how in fact data clearly illustrated the changes that have occurred in the species demographic as the stocks have recovered – specifically addressing the question as to why there was an abundance of smaller Snapper haddock in the population and what their actual age and maturity was, which can be established by tracking year classes. In a nutshell, it is not a bad thing and in fact the sweetness and quality of the smaller fish has historically been coveted and can now be fully marketed in conjunction with a solid management plan The small fish are good, and healthy, and need to be harvested.
So, 30 years later we are in a position to support the rebirth of the Gloucester waterfront, capitalizing on a fully recovered resource of high quality and abundant New England Groundfish. The fishermen, local processor, our customers – progressive consumer facing Companies , and the government are all aligned and working towards a common goal of getting this product back to the market. We have been an active partner from Day 1 , January 6th 2017, when the first fillet was cut for commercial sale in the newly refurbished processing room. North Atlantic / Bali Seafoods has been instrumental in turning this nascent opportunity into a viable commercial entity. Much work remains to be done – less than 12% of the Haddock TAC is currently being harvested – and the waterfront operations are still starting up and are in need of throughput. But with our dedicated effort and the continued support of our customer partners we will once again establish the historical New England Groundfish resource to its rightful place in the US market.
It is an exciting time – Stay tuned, the potential is only beginning to be realized!