Fishermen compete with black sea bass for coveted lobster

You may soon notice black sea bass for a low price at the fish market.

HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Lobstermen have some competition: Black sea bass are also preying on the valuable supply of lobsters off the coast of New England. That’s prompted fishermen to urge federal regulators from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to lift restrictions on fishing black sea bass. By catching more of the species, they also reduce the competition for lobster.

Schermerhorn’s Seafood Owner Mike Fitzgerald doesn’t think customers will have an appetite for black sea bass. “We don’t have any real need for black sea bass. We certainly have a need for lobsters,” he said. “I don’t see too many people that are willing to jump all over different species. They know what they like and they pretty much come back for it…For us, it’s swordfish, haddock, cod, lobsters, steamers.”

According to federal data from 2013, black sea bass had a record catch year, bringing in 8.5 million dollars. However, that same year, lobster generated a record 460 million dollars. This year, fishermen said they’re noticing record low lobster populations in Southern New England.

It’s not just about lobster. NOAA has placed strict restrictions on several popular groundfish like haddock and cod, making it almost impossible for cod to be sold at reasonable prices. Maine closed its cod fishing season in August and added restrictions on haddock. It’s an effort to prevent overfishing, allowing the species to repopulate. Fitzgerald said his haddock supply at Schermerhorn’s is strong, but it’s not caught locally. It comes from Canada. He said he predicts markets will be forced to buy farm-raised seafood as the demand continues for popular species, but the restrictions are stricter.

“In the long term, if we’re going to protect the health of the oceans, we’re probably going to have more farm raised fish, but we’ll probably have to do that so the farms themselves aren’t a problem in creating pollution,” said Frank Lowenstein of Sheffield. He said he’s noticed a limited supply and higher prices.

The fishing industry is volatile: Fitzgerald said prices can change daily, and it all depends on the catch, weather and these federal restrictions.

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