Building a New Foundation

by Sam Murfitt

Arron Dority testifying at the New England Fisheries Management Council meeting in September, 2010. He works with fishermen and federal fisheries managers to advocate for rebuilding groundfish stocks and restoring the groundfish industry in eastern Maine through area management. ©Photo by Sam Murrfitt

Aaron Dority is the Downeast Groundfish Initiative Director. He organized and now manages the Northeast Coastal Communities Sector, a federally-approved organization of fishermen who are responsible for managing the catch shares, or the quota of fish, to which they have rights.

Our sector is the Northeast Coastal Communities Sector, we have thirty members as of May 1 in 2011, and we have eighteen members this year. We’re split between Maine and Massachusetts. They’re almost exclusively small boat fishermen, almost exclusively hook fishermen, although we do have a couple of members that might switch over to gill net for part of the year and we have one member in Martha’s Vineyard who ís a dragger. The plight that our fishermen face now is similar to a lot of people in the fleet. They just don't have enough allocation to be able to make a living ground fishing they way that they would like to.

It’s a difficult choice in the beginning of the year. You’ve got to look at your allocation. Compared to the price does it make more sense for me to fish this, does it make more sense for me to lease this? Well, the mission that we have for our sector is for owner/operator fishermen to be able to have an opportunity to go ground fishing, and to fish other fisheries – whether its lobster, scallop, or others.

In Massachusetts, in shore fisheries, it’s that diversity that really keeps people alive. So that’s the future that we want for our sector. However, there are a number of hurdles right now. We’ve got to make sure that the New England Fisheries Management Council put in place some strong accumulation caps, and that’s accumulation in ownership of fishing rights in ground fish. This has been done in other quota-managed systems around the country.

It’s no excuse that this isn't a limited access privileged program, the fact is it’s a quota-managed system. When ever you have a quota managed system without restrictions you see the quota migrating from the boats that don’t have as much money to the boats that do have a lot of money. It’s the flow of fishing rights towards capitol, and that’s going to happen here, just as it’s happened everywhere else. We must have protections for the small boats and some protections for owner operator fishermen.

So that’s really what we're going to be advocating for. We're also going to be promoting the fact that we can land a really high quality product and use marketing to our advantage, to make sure that we can support these smaller scale owner operator fishermen.

In Maine, we’ve got a challenge that I think is even more significant. From Port Clyde east, there has been no-one ground fishing for the most part, for a decade. That’s because of long-term depletion in that area and the fish have disappeared in shore. We are now trying to find out whether a small scale ground fishery is once again viable.

We’ve done a pilot program this year with a fisherman from Swan’s Island who is setting 1,000 hooks a day. The first year hasn’t been too promising, we haven’t seen a lot of fish. What we need in the long term is to be able to protect the spawning areas. Including spawning areas where there are not a lot of fish right now so that as areas start to recover we can make sure that there are fish there, that it’s sustainable in the long run, with enough fish to support the fishermen in our communities. We are getting recovery in the abundance of fish and the biomass is increasing, but we don’t have the spatial distribution of the stocks that we really need. The next step is to make sure that as the abundance recovers we also have that distribution of fish throughout that whole range.

So that it’s not just fisherman off Gloucester and New Hampshire that have a large supply of cod fish, but also, fishermen Down- east, at Martha’s Vineyard and the inshore Georges Bank stock area. So these are all things that we need to pay attention to, and I think council can do this in the next amendment.


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