What is “Fishing in the Red?”

At NAMA, we’ve been talking a lot recently about “fishing in the red.” Later this month, we’re headed to FarmAid in Saratoga Springs, NY, where our exhibit will show concertgoers what we’re talking about. But as we hop on the Road to Farm Aid, we thought we’d take a minute to explain what we mean by fishing in the red, and why it’s an important thing to highlight. 

For many fishermen in our region, the expense of fishing outweighs the income. Fishermen are paying for fuel, supplies, and labor – and in many cases, they’re leasing quota rights. But the price of fish at the docks is extremely low. As we’ve pointed out before, the numbers don’t add up. 

  • The cost of fish: Dogfish is abundant in New England waters right now. The price per pound? $0.20. With such low prices and no local market to sell to, it’s a losing proposition.
  • The cost of quota: It’s expensive to lease quota, but when the catch limits for certain species are curtailed, small operators often have to fish for other species to make up the difference. And they’ll need to lease that quota from someone else, adding an additional layer of expense to their operation. Brett, our community organizer, has a good post here showing how this can play out for fishermen. 
  • The cost to our fisheries: No businessperson can operate in the red indefinitely. Our concern is that the cost of doing business will squeeze smaller operators off the water, leaving larger, more capitalized and industrial-scale operations with the majority of the quota and the market. 
That’s why NAMA has been developing market alternatives for fishermen like direct sales to health care institutions and Community Supported Fisheries. And we’ll continue to push for policies that support a diverse fleet of fishing boats to thrive in our fisheries. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Who Fishes Matters. We want to put an end to fishing in the red.