The federal government will spend $25 million on East Coast fish to aid nutrition assistance programs and help New England’s struggling commercial fishing industry.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Wednesday it would make the purchase on Atlantic groundfish. That is a group of species such as cod, haddock and pollock that come to the docks in states including Massachusetts and Maine and are popular in seafood markets and restaurants.
The purchase came after members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation called on the USDA to purchase more East Coast seafood through its programs that distribute food to residents in need. The purchase will help fill food pantries and boost an East Coast seafood industry still struggling with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the delegation members said.
The USDA “is continuing to support the Atlantic seafood industry, as we have urged them to do, after our contributions went overlooked in federal purchases for far too long,” said Democratic Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Democratic Reps. William Keating and Seth Moulton in a statement.
The groundfishing industry in New England is one of the oldest commercial enterprises in the U.S. The USDA purchase arrives as the industry is reeling from a series of shocks that have threatened its viability.
U.S. fishermen caught more than 100 million pounds of cod per year in the 1980s. The catch was less than 2 million pounds in total last year. Fishery managers have attributed the drop to overfishing and environmental conditions.
Fishing industry managers have also recommended reducing catch limits for cod that have already been slashed in recent years. The regulatory New England Fishery Management Council said this month it has called for a reduction of the commercial Georges Bank cod catch from about 2.4 million pounds to about 540,000 pounds next year. Georges Bank is a key fishing ground off New England.
The poor condition of the cod stock resulted in “a sharp reduction from previous catch limits,” the council said in a statement.
The USDA did not respond to a request for comment about the groundfish purchase.
Story by Patrick Whittle.