NMFS’ economics report warps reality

Posted on May 09, 2014

Yet another timely coincidence.

The latest version of Fisheries Economics of the United States has been released and for some reason the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) decided not to separate seafood imports and domestic production from the commercial economic impact estimates, as they did in the prior year.

No explanation.

No warning.

Those numbers just appeared back in the commercial totals and, just like that, the commercial industry looks a lot bigger than it used to be, with the click of a keyboard.

The agency also saw fit to stop updating the online queries that would allow individuals to pull out imports so now there is no way for the average person to figure it all out.

Strange that the agency would go this route and puff up the economic might of the commercial sector as the debate over reallocation of this country’s marine resources is really heating up. Seafoodnews.com was quick to grab this gift from the National Marine Fisheries Service with a story headlined, “NOAA Economic report shows Commercial Fishery Values dwarf that of recreational sector.”

The Seafood News article goes on to claim, The report shows once and for all that in terms of economic value, employment, sales and income, there is simply no comparison between the recreational and commercial sectors. This fact is particularly important as lobbyists for the recreational sector call for reallocation of US fisheries resources, which would mean taking a broad economically productive asset and putting it in fewer and more private hands.”

Things certainly sound bleak for the recreational sector, which has made economics one of the key metrics in efforts to reallocate fisheries according to modern criteria.

If you look at the picture the way NMFS apparently wants the public to see it, the commercial sector in 2012 represented $140 billion in terms of sales versus the recreational sector at $58 billion. In terms of value added to the national economy, the commercial sector added nearly $60 billion, versus about $30 billion for the recreational sector. In terms of jobs, the commercial industry (producers, processors, distributors, wholesalers and seafood retailers) employed 1.27 million people, while the recreational sector employed 380,000.

But what happens if you remove seafood imports, shellfish and finfish that recreational anglers generally do not pursue? What if you actually compare apples to apples? When you do the work that you would expect NMFS to do, you end up with a very different picture.

Below are commercial industry economic impacts using the same multipliers used in Fisheries Economics of the United States.  Imports have been removed, as have shrimp, crab, freshwater fish, lobster, surf clam/ocean quahog, west coast groundfish, menhaden, alewife, anchovy, butterfish, herring, other fish considered bait, scallops, and all other shellfish.  In an effort to be conservative, East Coast groundfish and other trawl species were left in due to a small recreational component. The result looks like this:

Commercial

Sales (billions)

Income (billions)

Employment

Harvesters

      $5.15

       $2.67

      67,942

Processors 

      $3.02

       $1.33

      21,741

Wholesalers

      $1.39

       $0.65

      10,083

Retail

      $9.68

       $5.35

      186,412

Total

     $19.24

       $10.00

      286,179

When you take out those species, recreational expenditures generate $39.2 billion MORE total sales, $20.4 billion MORE in value added and support 164,072 MORE jobs.

You can’t blame Seafoodnews.com for portraying the numbers they were served on a silver platter to benefit the commercial sector. But this report is a complete distortion of reality that acts against the economic interests of the country as a whole. It plays right into the hands of anyone who is working to prevent the fishery management councils from ever reallocating a fishery again. Just as Seafoodnews.com picked up this misleading report and ran with it, there is no doubt it will make its way to every council member on every coast, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico where the deliberations over red snapper have already been subjected to an uncanny series of manipulations that leave reallocation of that fishery hanging by a thread.

The report is yet another confusing signal from NMFS, which has always been much more comfortable dealing with the commercial sector. The agency’s leadership claims to support efforts to regularly reallocate fisheries, but the bureaucracy seems unfettered in its opposition. Left unclarified, there is no doubt that the agency’s latest report will be held up as yet another reason to never reallocate.

And that may have been the goal all along.

Issues: reallocation