Commercial-fishing advocates pushing for more locally caught seafood to stay in Rhode Island hope a study detailing new financial information on the state’s struggling fishing industry will further their cause by quantifying its strengths and promise.
The continual decrease in commercial-fishing boats in Rhode Island, the increasing age of Rhode Island fishermen and an aging population of vessels – also detailed in the report – could paint a less-than-rosy future. But other data collected, including what authors say is previously unreported information on the value of a thriving seafood-processing industry – $100 million in 2010 – offer hope for growth in the state’s commercial-fishing industry, the advocates say.
The report, “Rhode Island Commercial Fishing and Seafood Industries: The Development of an Industry Profile,” was released in late October. It was sponsored by the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation, a nonprofit, private foundation based in South Kingstown and established by commercial fishermen to support fisheries-research projects.
Among its key findings, all for 2010:
• Income from the processing of seafood in Rhode Island, including seafood imported here for processing, was at least $100 million.
• The estimated total value of fish sold in Rhode Island was $201 million.
• Estimated total income associated with fish landed by Rhode Island home-ported vessels was $150 million.
• Estimate of total employment in Rhode Island connected directly to harvesting, processing, distributing, etc. was 6,951.
• The number of state-licensed commercial fishing boats decreased to 1,298, from 1,488 in 2005.
• Lobster was the highest-valued seafood caught by Rhode Island fishermen.
• Major species landed in terms of volume included ilex squid, Atlantic herring, little skate, loligo squid and Atlantic mackerel.
The profile comes at a pivotal time for the state, commercial fishermen and the businesses that rely on and support the industry. Fishermen are at odds with the state over regulations they say make it too difficult to be a commercial fisherman, resulting in the continual decrease in their numbers. They also want more of their product to stay where it is harvested. The state could benefit from helping the commercial-fishing industry survive and thrive, thus helping the state’s own strained budget, they say.