New England is going through a sea change this month. Fishermen who catch groundfish (cod, haddock, flounder) are shifting away from decades of failed management, which has led to the decline of fish populations and the loss of thousands of jobs. On May 1st, a type of catch share called sectors began for the groundfish fishery.
There are numerous benefits to fishermen who operate under sectors, as compared to traditional fishery management systems, such as a Days-at-Sea program:
- Now fishermen have the freedom to decide how, when and where to fish.
- Fishermen can keep a higher percentage of the fish they catch and are no longer legally forced to discard large amounts of economically valuable fish.
- For the first time in decades, fishermen have the flexibility to create and follow an actual business plan.
- For the first time, now fishermen can cooperate and time their landings so that they get a higher price for their fish and avoid market gluts.
- The days of dangerous “derby-style” fishing are over. Fishermen don’t have to race the clock anymore and can develop innovative ways to avoid bycatch and fish more selectively.
- Under sectors, fishermen are allowed to fish in portions of the Gulf of Maine Rolling Closure Areas and Georges Bank Seasonal Closure Area which were previously completely off limits to them.
- Under sectors, fishermen no longer have to worry about “cod jail,” when they had to wait out the clock on the other side of the demarcation line to land their fish.
The transition to catch shares, particularly timed with new MSA requirements of annual catch limits and accountability measures will be challenging for many in New England’s fishing industry. Yet catch shares are an improvement from the alternative — the old days-at-sea system –which is broadly agreed to be broken. This new system of management will take some getting used to but ultimately will serve the fishermen and the fisheries better.