Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Improving New England Groundfishery Management
Press Release

RELEASE: Improving New England Groundfishery Management

To read the full report, click here.

Washington, D.C. — Today, on the opening day of the fishing season in the Northeast, the Center for American Progress released “The Future of America’s First Fishery: Improving Management of the New England Groundfishery” by Michael Conathan. This report outlines the steps necessary to improve management of the groundfishery, begin to repair relationships among the disparate stakeholder groups, and ensure the system can continue to build on the improvements made in its first two years, particularly in light of federal budget constraints and new challenges involving scientific review of fisheries and data collection.

Consumers are becoming ever more educated about their seafood—trying to balance factors such as local sourcing, environmental impacts of different fishing gear, mercury and heavy metal content, and overall sustainability. Thus, stabilizing one of the world’s most productive fisheries is of interest to more people than ever before. The New England groundfishery is the oldest fishery in the nation, and arguably the most in jeopardy of falling into further dramatic decline.

As managers and fishermen look to stem the ebb of jobs and economic activity from this fishery while sustaining the fish stocks that support it, recommendations outlined in this report provide a blueprint for a path forward. They include:

  • Direct new personnel being hired to fill regional leadership positions within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s, or NOAA, northeast region to set as their highest priority the reconstruction of relationships with the fishing industry and other fishery stakeholders.
  • Improve communication among all stakeholder groups, including NOAA, scientists, fishermen, politicians, and environmental nongovernmental organizations.
  • Heighten collaboration between fishermen and scientists to improve data collection and analysis, building a greater understanding of the scientific process and the fishermen’s experience, providing more accurate assessments of fish populations, and reducing the uncertainty that may artificially reduce total allowable catches.
  • Develop alternative monitoring methods, including electronic monitoring capability, that will lower the cost of fishery monitoring by replacing or supplementing at-sea fishery observers, through partnerships among NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, fishermen, and external organizations.
  • Analyze the validity of some fishermen’s concerns about consolidation in the sector management system and address them as necessary, including through exploration and development of permit banks by NOAA and New England’s fishery management council, to ensure that a geographically diverse group of fishermen retain fishery access.

The new sector management system initiated in 2010 represents the best hope for the future of this historic fishery. The system has its limitations, and improvements are undoubtedly necessary. While there is near-universal distaste for a return to the old system of management—a system where fishing was controlled by limiting the number of days per year fishermen were allowed to fish—no other viable alternative has emerged, even from those who suggest sector management will result in hyper-consolidation of the fishery into a few hands.

Coastal towns throughout New England rely on fishing as a fundamental source of employment, yet the relationships among fishery regulators, scientists, industry members, and environmental groups are more contentious in New England than in any other region of the country. Every one of the groups involved has played a role in the deterioration of these relationships, which in turn has led to the lack of trust among stakeholders in the region. Repairing the lines of communication between these groups is essential to developing best practices for the industry in this region.

This report evaluates where we have come in the last two years under sector management and what reforms are still needed to protect this industry, which is the economic lifeblood of so many and intrinsically tied to the cultural heritage of these communities.

To read the full report, click here.

To speak with Michael Conathan, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.481.8181 or [email protected].