Miscellaneous Marine Products

SIC 0919

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This industry classification covers establishments primarily engaged in miscellaneous fishing activities, such as catching or taking of miscellaneous marine plants and animals. Plants and animals covered under this code include seaweed, sponges, sea urchins, terrapins, turtles, and frogs. Cultured pearl production also falls under this classification.

According to Dun and Bradstreet, 269 establishments employed 1,458 people in the miscellaneous marine products industry in 2010, and sales reached $142.3 million. States employing high numbers of workers in this industry included Texas, New Hampshire, Washington, and Louisiana. Washington was the top state in terms of revenues, accounting for over 55 percent of the annual total.

The primary marine animal featured under this heading is the turtle. Turtles became popular for meat and soup shortly after Columbus arrived in the New World. By 1878, an estimated 15,000 green turtles were shipped annually from the Caribbean to European markets. The market for the turtle began to wane in the 1990s amid mounting environmental concerns that the species was nearing extinction.

The turtle's popularity as a meal item had created a serious threat to its ability to sustain its population by the turn of the twenty-first century. In addition to risks associated with overharvesting and habitat loss, thousands of turtles have been injured or drowned in other commercial fishing operations.

All seven species of marine turtles around the continental United States are listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In 1973, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora drafted a resolution to prohibit the trade of endangered or threatened species, including the imperiled sea turtles. The agreement was signed by 95 nations. To further protect the species, the U.S. Department of State began requiring shrimp fisherman to use turtle excluder devices (TEDs) to protect turtles from being killed in shrimp trawls. In 2002, the U.S. government certified the shrimp harvesting practices of 41 countries as turtle-safe.

The diamondback terrapin, which lives in estuaries and salt marshes along the eastern seaboard and through the Gulf of Mexico region, is regarded by many culinary experts as the best-tasting species of turtle. The diamondback terrapin population was in danger as far back as the 1920s, spurring the institution of regulatory measures designed to protect it. Governmental agencies undertook breeding efforts to reestablish it in some areas. During the 1960s, the diamondback population started to show signs of recovery, but market demand also increased. More stringent regulations defining the size and season for taking turtles were put in place by the federal and state governments. The National Marine Fisheries Service instituted fishery observer programs to document the bycatch of protected species, such as sea turtles, and to reduce sea turtle bycatch in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico.

Efforts to protect endangered turtles in the United States continued well into the late 2000s. For example, in 2009, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) instituted new restrictions on "longline" fishing, which was used by about 100 commercial fishing operations off the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. According to Our Planet, as many as 1,000 sea turtles--80 percent of which were endangered loggerheads--were being snagged in longlines every 18 months. In addition, in 2008, President George W. Bush announced the creation of three marine preserves: the Mariana Trench, the Pacific Remote Islands, and the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument. Thousands of sea turtles make their home in these areas, which together cover almost 196,000 square miles of ocean.

The sea urchin is a lesser-known, commercially taken marine product. Urchins are typically caught by divers and exported for urchin roe--a traditional food in Japan. The popularity of urchins as an export item caused concern about the domestic stock. Seasonal, geographic, and size requirements on red sea urchin catches were issued throughout the 1990s in California because of falling landings, and urchin stocks subsequently returned to higher quantities. After sea urchin landings fell in 2003 to 18.3 million pounds, down from 23.4 million pounds in 2002 and 27.4 million pounds in 2001, they rose again in 2004 to 21.8 million pounds. Alaska also experienced an increase in sea urchin harvesting and responded with increased regulations. By the late 2000s, harvesting had fallen to 14.7 million pounds.

The landings of frogs declined rapidly during the 1990s and 2000s. In 1993, a total of 47,737 pounds of frogs were harvested in the United States; by 2005, when the Office of Science and Technology ceased to record information on this species, that number had declined to just 466 pounds.

Seaweed is another well-known commodity grouped in the miscellaneous marine product category. New England and California have the two centers of seaweed production in the United States. Seaweed is a food, consumed primarily in Asia, and it has largely industrial uses in the United States. Agar, a jelly-like substance derived from seaweed, is used in laboratories as a culture media, especially for microbiological work, and has wide uses as a thickener in food processing. Alginates, soft non-woven fibers derived from seaweed, are formed into rope and ribbons and have medicinal value as pads that help absorb wound exudates. Algin, a gelatinous substance produced by brown algae, is often used in prepared food and pharmaceuticals. A process developed in Scotland in 1950 to make liquid fertilizer from seaweed has also increased in popularity over the years.

Rockweed seaweed landings remained relatively steady through the 2000s, with production running from a decade low of 1.4 million metric tons in 2004 to a decade high of 3.2 metric tons in 2008. U.S. production of kelp was 3.7 million metric tons in 2008. Although seaweed production generates revenues of $7 billion worldwide, American consumers had yet endorsed it in the early 2010s. Some small entrepreneurs were working to change that, processing kelp as a gourmet vegetable, and scientists were watching closely to observe consumers' reaction. "Seaweed doesn't require arable land, fresh water or fertilizer," Bob Drogan noted in the Nashua Telegraph in 2009. "Kelp grows swiftly--two feet a day in some species--and produces no runoff or erosion. It cleanses the water of excess nutrients and absorbs carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming."

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