Adding Up Impact: Fishing for the Future
This case study is part of MANP’s Stories of Impact series, highlighting the many ways Maine’s nonprofits are essential to a strong and healthy Maine.
Fishing is Maine’s economic lifeblood. Maintaining a thriving, ecologically sustainable industry requires planning as well as input from those who know it best – fishermen. Penobscot East Resource Center (Penobscot East) in Stonington is demonstrating that cooperation among government regulators and marine scientists using data contributed by local fishermen produces both better yields and longer-term sustainability.
Through this initiative:
- Penobscot East engaged more than 45% of scallop fishermen in working on sustainable fishing practices with regulators and scientists
- In 2014 government fishery managers utilized data provided by fishermen to design their surveys that determine the season length and catch rules in Maine bays
- Penobscot East convened a summit of scientists and fisherman from the U.S. and Canada to discuss scallop science to produce better fisheries management approaches.
- Scallop fishermen sat on the Maine Sea Grant committee reviewing funding to support further research
- A partnership with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center at Woods Hole is being used to design a co-management model that could protect fishing globally
The Story Behind the Impact
Traditionally fishing grounds are regulated and fishing rules set within large regions by Maine’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR). Recent science shows, however, that most marine animals, even shellfish like scallops, exist in smaller “micro-stocks” that are at risk from being either overfished or overlooked using this traditional approach. In the long term, this mismatch of scale could jeopardize one of Maine’s most valuable natural resource-based industries. Variations within species pose a huge challenge to fishery management since they require a great deal of data collection resources that the government does not have.
Penobscot East Resource Center (Penobscot East) is meeting the challenge head on with a pilot “co-management” model in the scallop fishing industry. The hypothesis: small-scale analysis using current information can produce better fishing management. Launched with partnership that included Penobscot East’s coordination, DMR fishery managers can now manage smaller areas and rely on small sets of data provided by real-time reporting from fishermen to tailor catch limits and season length including in-season closures. With Penobscot East’s facilitation, project partners have invested substantial time in meetings, government hearings and community forums, demonstrating their commitment to building a strong foundation of trust that is crucial to future success.
According to Penobscot East’s Executive Director Robin Alden, “All parties are contributing to an evolving process of improving science, setting rules, and making responsible adaptations, even mid-season, to improve them.”
Challenges remain, but participants are already seeing benefits: 2012-2015 scallop areas, season lengths and catch limits set by Department of Marine Resources for eastern bays were based on this collaboration, fishermen now have more voice in setting policy, and marine scientists are better equipped to analyze population differences. Penobscot East’s initiative also has generated a practical high school curriculum called “Eastern Maine Skippers” in eight towns to educate the next generation of fishermen about sustainable fishing and fishing policy.
Penobscot East’s model is unique. Efforts in other parts of the country have relied on one-time projects that were not sustainable. Co-management is in its infancy but a grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation’s Fisheries Innovation Fund has infused significant funding to the state that allows time and resources to develop the pilot co-management plan, which can guide fishing of all types in the future.
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