In response to the groundfish crisis, a number of Maine fishing and coastal
community groups have collaboratively developed an alternative management
plan, based on principles of decentralizing the quotas and establishing fishing
areas for different groups, and will present that plan to local fisheries managers.
This new plan hopes to provide a solution to the current problems of depleted
cod and other fish stocks, low catches, disenfranchised fishermen, and eroding
access to the fishery for Maine coastal and island fishermen.
The Gulf of Maine Inshore Fisheries Conservation and Stewardship Plan of
2002, is primarily the work of the Stonington Fisheries Alliance, the Northwest
Atlantic Marine Alliance of Saco (www.namanet.org) and the Independent
Fishermen Investing in Sustainable Harvesting, know as I-FISH (www.ifish.org).
These groups are composed largely of members who are fishermen operating
small to mid-size vessels engaged in a number of fisheries.
The groups’ alternative plan, to be considered by the New England Fisheries
Management Council in July, asserts that the current management regime has
failed to address the root causes of repeated cod stock collapses in the Gulf of
Maine, which include a highly mobile fleet that can direct fishing pressure onto small
areas (see “The Paradox of Mobility,” by U. Maine School of Marine Sciences
Prof. Jim Wilson, below), habitat erosion by fishing gear, and a lack of understanding
of what is needed for a fishery to be truly sustainable over a wider area.
The plan notes that other current management proposals would have
draconian consequences for inshore fishermen, but would still fall short of halting
the cycle of damage to the fish stocks. Instead, this plan is “area-based” and
proposes decentralized areas for fishing for groundfish that would give local
regions more decision-making authority, thus allowing local regions to have a
voice in limiting access and fishing in these areas, and tailoring harvesting
techniques to minimize habitat impact and reduce unwanted bycatch, including a
seasonal closure to protect spawning stocks.
Four areas for management are proposed in a region that is now managed
as the entire Gulf of Maine. These four areas correspond roughly to inshore
downeast Maine, the inshore Midcoast area (from approximately Mt. Desert to
the Sheepscot River), a southern inshore area (running to Cape Cod) and the
offshore regions of the Gulf of Maine.
Plan developers stress that these divisions have been made based on
biological considerations, not for management ease, and reflect substock
divisions and migration patterns in the cod population as accurately as possible.
The plan is built largely on the work of fisherman Ted Ames of Stonington, who
has studied cod fishing, spawning and wintering areas, and together with the
Island Institute has published a booklet, Cod and Haddock Spawning Grounds in
the Gulf of Maine (now out of print).
The proposed management plan covers the inshore Gulf of Maine, north of an east-
west line running at approximately the latitude of Boston, and out to roughly 40
miles from shore. The planners primarily address the management of the one-
time backbone of the fishery, the Atlantic cod, but because of their ecological
and habitat approach, claim that benefits would be also felt across a group of
fish known as the “groundfish complex” that includes haddock, pollock, hake and
other species. The total biomass of spawning-age codfish in the Gulf of Maine is
estimated by the National Marine Fisheries Service to be about 26,000 metric
tons and increasing slowly, with the target biomass set 84,000 metric tons.
The New England Fisheries Management Council is not mandated to
consider alternative fishery management strategies, and some plan supporters
are pessimistic about the chances for adoption of the plan by the management
body. The Council is currently considering other forms of modifying the existing
groundfish management plan that could address many of the issues. Should the
Council be unable to craft a management direction that meets the mandates of
the federal Sustainable Fishing Act, additional judicial action is possible.