August 7, 2008

State’s commercial fishermen are being paid less for their catches


Ex-vessel prices paid to North Carolina commercial fishermen haven’t come close to keeping up with inflation in recent years, according to a new report released by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries.

Species, such as shrimp, croaker, southern flounder, and bluefish, all reached a pinnacle in value before 1990.

The report, “Trends in North Carolina Seafood Prices,” tracks the changes in the ex-vessel value of 16 species harvested by commercial fishermen over the past 35 years.  Ex-vessel prices are the prices paid fishermen by seafood dealers or wholesalers.

For some species, such as shrimp, croaker, and bluefish, the average price per pound in 2007 was lower than the price paid more than a decade earlier.

In 2007, shrimp averaged $1.88 per pound, compared to $2.61 in 1994.

Fishermen were paid 30 cents per pound for bluefish in 2007, less than the 36 cents paid in 1995.

Croakers earned fishermen 37 cents per pound in 2007, but brought in 51 cents in 1990.

And, the numbers are even worse when the prices are adjusted for the effect of inflation, a more accurate indicator of the true purchasing power of the money in fishermen’s wallets.

The 64 cents paid to a shrimper in 1972 was worth $3.16 in consumer price index-adjusted 2007 prices, nearly 40 percent higher than the value of shrimp last year.

The inflation-adjusted value of king mackerel in 1976 was $2.55, while the state’s fishermen averaged $1.86 for mackerel last year.

And fishermen earned the equivalent of $2.72 in 1989 for southern flounder, compared to $2.39 in 2007.

The report doesn’t identify the reasons behind the changes in ex-vessel prices, but Scott Crosson, Division of Marine Fisheries socioeconomics program manager and author of the report, said prices can change in response to economic recessions, increases in oil prices, and international trade.

A direct correlation between growth of the global seafood market and downward spiraling prices for some, if not all, types of wild-caught seafood produced in North Carolina is hard to deny.

The evidence that globalization has hurt state fishermen is perhaps most compelling in the case of shrimp, one of the most important commercial fisheries in the state.

As shrimp imports grew from 264,207 metric tons in 1996 to 556,936 tons in 2007, prices paid to North Carolina shrimpers dropped from $2.54 to $1.88 per pound.

Shrimpers here have had some success in developing niche markets for consumers who value strict health, safety, and environmental production standards, but the huge volume of cheaper shrimp coming into the U.S. from Asia and Latin America clearly drives wholesale prices.

The DMF report can be downloaded at

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