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Restaurant closures and price drops pose challenges for Delaware fisheries

Wes Townsend
Deckhand Dan Iancangela getting ready to set the season's first load of pots aboard F/V Paka

With restaurants closed, Delaware’s commercial fisherman are trying to find new places to sell their catch—and at a reduced price. Crabbers may face the same challenge when their season picks up.   

April is usually the prime month for Delaware’s fleet of 111 gillnet boats fishing for striped bass. And with a less than average harvest in Maryland this February the price was above $5.00 a pound just before the coronavirus lockdown dropped the price to about $1.75. 

Wes Townsend fishes for black sea bass with pots out of Indian River Inlet. He says the price for that fish also dropped—and by about two-thirds from $3.50 to $1.20. 

“Normally this time of year I’m allowed 1,400 pots in the water. I have 400 pots set, because there’s no sense going out fishing and not being able to sell my fish or only getting a third of what I can normally get for them,” said Townsend.     

Wes Townsend on the resilience of fishermen.

Townsend says he’s taken advantage of some direct-to-consumer sales opportunities while restaurants are closed. 

The University of Delaware’s Delaware SeaGrant is trying to help commercial fisherman like Townsend find new places to sell their catch. The group has set up a link on its website to connect consumers directly to locally harvested shellfish aquaculture and wild caught fish.

“The webpage has the fish species listed, the season and direct contact information either email or phone number,” said SeaGrant fisheries and aquaculture specialist Edward Hale. “So we’re trying to help these folks self-market as much as possible.”     

Delaware blue crab is by far Delaware’s largest fishery, accounting for about $7.3 million of the state’s $9.5 million ex-vessel value in 2017. Crab season is open, but boats aren’t expected to be putting out pots en masse until later this month or early May.

“Obviously there’s a lot of concern right now among the crabbers how the market will be once the crab starts coming on,” Fisheries Section Administrator for the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife Jon Clark.   

Hale says he expects the shutdown will have an impact of several million dollars on this season’s commercial sales.    

DNREC Sec. Shawn Garvin signed an Emergency Order this week to allow fisherman to transfer their catch quota to another vessel mid-season so fewer vessels can fish more efficiently.

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