To the editor:

In the July edition of Working Waterfront, author Ben Neal suggested that area management advocates look to California and Mexico for fisheries management ideas to implement in New England. However, before we look elsewhere, I would like to re-examine the Area Management Coalition’s rationale for proposing area-based management for consideration in Amendment 16 of the groundfish Fishery Management Plan.

First, while the Area Management proposal introduces new and innovative concepts based on area-specific ecological and oceanographic conditions, the idea of area management of fisheries is not unique – even in New England. For example, the Multispecies Fishery Management Plan contains special access programs that allow fishermen to catch yellowtail flounder and haddock within a specified area and a clearly outlined set of fishing rules. Differential Days At Sea counting is based on areas. There are closed areas to allow stocks to recover. The scallop fishery now contains a Northern Gulf of Maine area-specific limited entry program. In fact, much of current fishery management relies on area management. Therefore, Neal’s statement that “the idea of exclusion… sits poorly with many groundfishermen” was not entirely accurate. The New England Fisheries Management Council, many of whose members are groundfishermen, regularly delineates area-specific management schemes.

Next, I disagree that New England does not contain natural divisions as does California. In fact, there are very clear divisions between the Northern Gulf of Maine, Southern New England and Georges Bank. In the eastern end of the Northern Gulf of Maine for example, a cold-water current skirts around Nova Scotia, through the Bay of Fundy, down the Maine coast, and then splits at Penobscot Bay. One stream circles around Jordan Basin, while the other travels down the coast, mixing with warmer water. Summer water temperatures off Cape Cod may be over ten degrees Celsius warmer than eastern Maine waters. Additionally, the inshore waters along eastern Maine contain a rocky bottom, while the bottom in Southern New England is sandy, providing different types of habitat, and requiring different gear types for commercial fishing. Finally, three major basins, Jordan, Wilkinson and Georges each mark natural, ecological boundaries.

New England groundfish migration patterns correspond to ecological boundaries, and they should be managed according to these boundaries. In California, there is a narrow coastal shelf, and most of the varieties of rockfish tend to live within the three mile limit. Maine has a much wider coastal shelf that allows greater variation in fish movements. Tagging studies in this region indicate that many cod and haddock migrate about thirty to forty miles, but few migrate any further. There is considerable evidence showing that these migration patterns correspond with New England’s ecological boundaries. The Area Management Plan’s five management areas are a compromise between strict ecological boundaries and current fishing patterns. The constraint facing area management in New England is not the lack of clear ecological boundaries. Rather, it is the New England Fishery Management Council’s unwillingness to abandon the failed Days At Sea approach in favor of ecological management.

Neal mentioned marine protected areas as one possible approach for New England. While marine protected areas may be a valuable conservation tool in the right circumstances, they will be counterproductive if they are not supported by local communities. In New England, many fishermen view marine protected areas as the nail in the coffin for commercial fishing. At the Downeast Initiative, we feel that it is far more important to devote resources to engaging fishermen in the regulatory process, and listening to what they have to say. Instituting marine protected areas at this time, in this region would alienate fishermen and dissolve the trust between fishermen and important partners such as conservation groups. Under area management, fishermen and other stakeholders can propose closed areas for stock regeneration. They can even propose marine protected areas if they would like. The important thing is that the fishermen, environmentalists and others involved in area-based governance decide how best to steward their valuable resources.

Finally, I would like to thank Ben Neal for examining community-based area management. The Downeast Initiative, Penobscot East Resource Center and Stonington Fisheries Alliance are long term advocates for this approach to management and are part of the Area Management Coalition. I believe that area management should be driven by sound scientific principles, but also by the valuable local knowledge of fishermen in all of New England’s fishing communities. There is a growing demand for a new approach to fisheries management in New England, and I believe that area management would address many of the problems that fishermen face today.

Aaron Dority

Penobscot East Resource Center, Stonington