Salmon overtakes lobster as the nation's most valuable catch

May 28—PORTLAND, Maine — Lobster isn't number one in the nation anymore.

Salmon is now the United States' highest-grossing, wild-caught domestic fishery, according to the latest report issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Science and Technology.

The report, issued last week, shows salmon leaping from third to first, with lobster slipping to number two nationally.

In Maine, lobster still tops the charts, with no serious rivals.

"Lobster is, by far, the most valuable species harvested in Maine," said Jeff Nichols, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

The new national numbers do not reflect aquaculture-raised salmon. The data covers 2019, the most recent year with complete data. The cash values represent money paid to fishermen at the dock, not consumer retail prices.

In 2019, salmon showed dramatic increases in both the amount landed, as well as its value. For lobster, both numbers dipped.

"The two have kind of jockeyed back and forth in previous years," said Michael Milstein, public fisheries spokesperson for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversaw the report.

Lobster harvests led in 2016 and 2018, while salmon did the same in 2017 and 2019.

Last week's report shows salmon bringing in $707 million at the docks. Lobster fetched $668 million. Crab rounded out the top three at $636 millon. Scallops and shrimp finished fourth and fifth.

"Ocean conditions are known to influence salmon returns to Alaska and the West Coast, and contributed to a large increase in 2019 salmon landings in Alaska," Milstein said.

Salmon landings were up 46 percent over the prior year, with an 18 percent increase in value. Alaska accounted for 99 percent of total salmon landings, including sockeye, chinook, pink, chum and coho varieties.

"In particular, pink salmon has a significant biennial cycle, which provided an additional boost to salmon landings overall in 2019," Milstein said.

Even with the salmon catch up, the majority of salmon eaten in the United States is imported and farm-raised. According to the report, the U.S. ranks only 17th, globally, in overall aquaculture production.

At the same time salmon landings went up in 2019, lobster landings fell — particularly American lobsters, which are the variety found in New England. Maine led all states in American lobster landings for the 38th consecutive year with 101 million pounds. But that's a 16 percent decrease from 2018's 122 million pounds.

Though the landings were down a quarter, dock prices were up, making for only a slight dip in the total value.

According to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine lobster brought in $492 million at the dock in 2018 and $491 million in 2019.

Massachusetts is the second leading producer of American lobster and, together, the two states represent 93 percent of the nation's total catch.

Maine alone accounts for 80 percent of all American lobster landings in the United States and no other fishery comes close to its value in the state. In 2019, it represented 72 percent of the state's entire $682 million marine fishery.

Elvers at $20 million and soft shell clams at $18 million were Maine's second and third most valuable dock-priced fisheries.

Maine has a fairly extensive salmon aquaculture fishery, but Maine officials cannot report its exact worth. One company, Cooke Aquaculture, is the only operator. Current state rules prohibit release of a fishery's worth if it has fewer than three participants, due to business confidentiality concerns.

Instead, Maine lumps its aquacultured salmon value in the catchall "other species category."

That combined fishery, at $93 million in 2019, represents only 14 percent of Maine's entire ocean harvest.

"Lobster is still king, for sure," Nichols said.