The lobster fishing boat Orca heads out into the harbor in Stonington after picking up a passenger at the public landing on Nov. 9, 2018. According to federal regulators, American lobster remained the country’s most valuable single-species fishery in 2017. Three-quarters of the gross fishing revenue that lobster landings generated — $423 million of the nationwide total of more than $550 million — was brought ashore in Maine. Credit: Bill Trotter

Despite a nationwide decline last year in the volume and value of American lobster landings, the fishery remains the most valuable single-species fishery in the country, according to a report released Thursday by federal regulators.

More than $550 million worth of American lobster was caught in the United States last year, with $423 million of that total — more than three-quarters of the national harvest — brought ashore in Maine, according to the 2017 Fisheries of the United States report, an annual tally of the nation’s fisheries compiled by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Only Alaska’s annual salmon fishery, which comprises multiple species of the pink-fleshed fish, brought in more revenue to any one state, generating $645 million in gross revenues for fishermen there in 2017, according to the report.

“The exceptional value of Maine’s iconic lobster fishery is the result of a longstanding commitment to sustainable harvesting practices,” Patrick Keliher, commissioner of the state Department of Marine Resources, said Thursday. “This commitment is deeply ingrained, so I’m confident that Maine’s lobster industry will continue to be an important economic driver for Maine’s coastal economy.”

The nationwide crab harvest last year, which is made up of multiple species of crab caught mainly in the mid-Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and off the Pacific Northwest, generated $610 million for fishermen. More than $506 million worth of sea scallops were harvested in 2017, most of it split between Massachusetts and New Jersey, while fishermen from multiple states caught $425 million worth of shrimp last year in the Gulf of Mexico.

The fisheries report stated that in 2017, America saw decreases in catch of Atlantic herring and menhaden, which are important fisheries for products such as bait, aquaculture feed and fish oil. However, fisheries for yellowfin tuna and Atlantic squid, which are important sources of food for people, were up during the same year.

The report also emphasizes the growing role of aquaculture in the United States, a country with a smaller aquaculture sector than many other major economic players. It states that the U.S. is “not a major aquaculture producer,” ranking 16th worldwide in production, although more than half the seafood that the country imports and consumes is farmed.

“It is an increasingly important part. It has been growing steadily over the past few years,” said Michael Liddel, a statistician in the NOAA Fisheries Office of Science and Technology.

Overall, Maine fishermen harvested $511 million dollars worth of seafood in 2017, putting the state third behind Alaska and Massachusetts for overall annual fishing revenue.

Maine ranked second nationwide in 2016, behind only Alaska’s $1.5 billion-plus fishing industry, but a drop of nearly $100 million in its 2017 lobster landings value bumped it a spot below Massachusetts. That state’s ranking was buoyed by an increase in sea scallop landings, despite a decrease in the average dockside price of $12 per pound to less than $10 per pound — which nonetheless remains among recent historically high prices in that fishery.

The vast majority of Maine’s fishing revenue each year is in the form of lobster landings. In 2017 Maine fishermen also harvested $9.3 million worth of sea scallops, $12 million worth of baby eels, another $12 million worth of softshell clams and nearly $18 million worth of herring, among other species. Maine leads the country in the value of its annual eel harvest.

Among fishing ports, Portland ranked 22nd nationwide last year in terms of quantity, with 49 million pounds of seafood landed in Maine’s biggest city, while Rockland ranked 33rd at 23 million pounds. Stonington outpaced both Portland and Rockland in terms of value, however, pulling in $56 million worth of seafood last year, the vast majority of it being lobster, for a nationwide ranking of 21st in that category.

Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and New Bedford, Massachusetts, kept their respective perennial positions as the busiest and most lucrative commercial fishing ports in the country. Dutch Harbor handled 769 million pounds of seafood worth $173 million in 2017 (ranking it second in terms of value behind New Bedford), while the Massachusetts port handled 111 million pounds of seafood valued at $390 million, much of it in the form of valuable sea scallops.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....