MIT Sea Grant: New England's Fishing Communities Table of Contents

1. Introduction

The research upon which this report is based had two objectives, to identify fishing communities in the New England region and more specifically, to assess the fishing-dependency of these communities. The communities of interest are those whose fishing fleets work in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under the jurisdiction of New England Fisheries Management Council. 1 Despite almost 25 years of regional fisheries management, New England’s fishing communities are facing economic and social uncertainty due to declines in a number of fish species and the resulting management efforts to rebuild those stocks.

Information about the impact of regulatory change on communities has been constrained by a dearth of long-term, systematic studies of fisheries dependent communities in New England. Shortly after the New England Fisheries Management Council was established in 1976 by the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act (the Magnuson Act), a flurry of useful studies were published. Some attempted to characterize New England’s fishing industry2 or a limited number of ports.3 Later reports focused on the economy4 or attempted to measure the social impacts of specific management regulations.5 Nowhere, however, was there a database of consistently gathered information about fishing dependent communities (FDCs) in the region.

While some of the recent studies have given managers and social scientists an improved understanding of the impact of regulatory changes on individual communities, neither their cumulative impacts nor the reverberation of impacts across communities and regions coincident with regulatory change have been assessed. In order to begin to monitor these dynamic and complex consequences of change, consistent data-collection over time is needed.

This MARFIN-funded study is an attempt to lay the groundwork for regional and community data sharing among fishery managers, policy makers, and fishing industry participants and communities. This study of the social and cultural parameters of the fisheries is complemented by an economic model (based on IMPLAN) being developed at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Future in-depth or more specific analyses of the human aspects of fisheries issues in New England will benefit from the baseline drawn by these two studies.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (SEC. 303 (a) (2))6 requires fishery management plans to: "contain a description of the fishery, including, but not limited to, the number of vessels involved, the type and quantity of fishing gear used, the species of fish involved and their location, the cost likely to be incurred in management, actual and potential revenues from the fishery, any recreational interest in the fishery, and the nature and extent of foreign fishing and Indian treaty fishing rights, if any. . . "

In addition, plans must "(9) include a fishery impact statement for the plan or amendment (in the case of a plan or amendment thereto submitted to or prepared by the Secretary after October 1, 1990) which shall assess, specify, and describe the likely effects, if any, of the conservation and management measures on–-(A) participants in the fisheries and fishing communities affected by the plan or amendment. . ."

Discretionary provisions of the management plans include permission to establish a "limited access system for the fishery in order to achieve optimum yield. . ." If this is done, however, "the Council and the Secretary take into account-- (A) present participation in the fishery, (B) historical fishing practices in, and dependence on, the fishery, (C) the economics of the fishery, (D) the capability of fishing vessels used in the fishery to engage in other fisheries, (E) the cultural and social framework relevant to the fishery and any affected fishing communities, and (F) any other relevant considerations". . .

When the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act was amended in 1996 by the Sustainable Fisheries Act, a number of standards were identified as requisite for fishery management plans. Among them, National Standard 8 dictates "Conservation and management measures shall, consistent with the conservation requirements of this Act (including the prevention of overfishing and rebuilding of overfished stocks), take into account the importance of fishery resources to fishing communities in order to (A) provide for the sustained participation of such communities, and (B) to the extent practicable, minimize adverse economic impacts on such communities."7

In its section on definitions, the Act defines the term "fishing community" as "a community which is substantially dependent on or substantially engaged in the harvest or processing of fishery resources to meet social and economic needs, and includes fishing vessel owners, operators, and crew and United States fish processors that are based in such a community."8

Thus, the fishing community is defined as a "place" and the legislation requires that the impact of regulations on fishing communities be analyzed. The question then arises, how should the boundaries of that "place" be drawn and its dependency measured? Does the whole setting have to be included in the measure or can a "fishing community" be abstracted from the whole and its dependency quantified? Furthermore, is the focus on dependency the only critical assessment to be made or is there another parameter of equal value? Those of us who are interested in fishing communities know that the answer is critical. The success or failure of fisheries management may be inextricably bound to notions of "community." Co-management and community quota systems are two of the most promising steps towards making fisheries sustainable without eliminating a "fishing way of life." Both require a defined community.

A general absence of social and cultural longitudinal data on fishing communities in the U.S. has led to an effort to fulfill the requisite of National Standard 8 through simple economic assessment. Unfortunately, such an approach is inadequate, and maybe even harmful, when applied to specific cases.9 Measurement of fishing dependence must include a complex of features that takes into account fishing history, infrastructure, specialization, social institutions and gentrification trends, in addition to economic characteristics. Most importantly, fishing communities must not be viewed as economic isolates but as contributing partners in regional networks of total capital flows and transformations associated with Natural Resource Regions.10

While the three principal investigators collaborated on each portion of the project, each of us took the lead in a particular approach to identifying fishing communities and ranking their fishing dependency. Chris Dyer and John Poggie, in collaboration with Dr. James McNally of the University of Michigan, were responsible for the theoretical context based on a regional consideration of fishing-related employment. John Poggie formulated the approaches that measure the complexity of the fishing infrastructure and the degree of gentrification of specific communities. Madeleine Hall-Arber was principally responsible for the port profile approach that provides a more detailed consideration of individual ports, revealing patterns of contacts, characteristics of the community’s culture and institutions, and some perspective on local residents’ views about their way of life and about fisheries management. All of the principal investigators interviewed key respondents and wrote portions of the profiles. In addition, Renee Gagne wrote the profile of Chatham, Massachusetts.

These three methods, along with economic analyses, offer a way to approach a comprehensive analysis of human ecosystem dynamics in coastal regions. Ultimately, our goal is to take fisheries management development one step closer to the incorporation of knowledge about the whole "resource system from the resource base to the fishermen,11 their families and communities, and the broader networks of policy distribution, and consumption of which they are also a part." 12

We propose that the regional theory and method outlined here reflect the reality of contemporary coastal communities having a fishing component in their economies. Furthermore, we suggest that this method be tested in other regions to determine if it should be accepted as the standard for the analysis of the fishing industry and fishing-dependent communities nationwide in fulfillment of the requisite associated with National Standard 8.

While we present this publication as an important step toward understanding fishing communities in New England, we do so with the caveat that we are aware of three major lacunae. The first is that our dependency measures do not incorporate comparative economic data. Since the dependency of a community on particular resources is necessarily affected by the value of those resources, the economic profiles are requisite for a more complete profile. Likewise, the second insufficiently covered pertinent aspect is history. While each community profile incorporates a small historical sketch, these sketches hardly do justice to the rich, complicated history of fishing in New England and so provide only the barest context for what exists today. Finally, because the Census numbers are based in part on samples, they seem to undercount the numbers of individuals involved in the fishing industry.13 Nevertheless, when the regions are compared using the indices based on Census data, the relative dependency of communities on the fishing industry seems to be fairly accurately indicated. Even so, we caution that the indices should not be relied upon for absolute numbers. The ultimate dependency of the communities must also be weighed according to the infrastructure differentiation, gentrification scale, analysis of total capital flow and, importantly, according to the perspective of community stakeholders as described in the profiles.

1The portion of the EEZ controlled by the New England Fishery Management Council lies off of the states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
2Smith and Peterson 1977, 1979; Peterson and Smith 1981; Acheson et al 1980;Danowski 1980; Dewar 1983; Gatewood & McCay 1988; Gersuny, Poggie &Marshall 1976; Ladner et al 1981; Penrose 1981
3Acheson ed. 1980; McConnell and Smith 1979; Poggie and Pollnac 1980; Dewar et al 1978; Husing 1980; McCay 1980; 1989; Miller and Van Maanen 1979
4Doeringer, Moss and Terkla 1986; Fox and Lesser 1981; Holmsen 1976
5Hall-Arber (1993); Griffith and Dyer (1996); Dyer, Poggie and Hall-Arber (1998)
616 U.S.C. 1853
8SEC. 3. DEFINITIONS 16 U.S.C. 1802
9E.g., the spiny dogfish fishery.
10Dyer and Poggie (2000)
11Both men and women who fish in New England seem to prefer to be referred to as fishermen rather than the academically-popular term ‘fisher." The term fisherman is used in this study as though gender-neutral.
12Durrenberger and King (2000)
13Another difficulty in using Census data that is easily accessible (via the Internet, for example), is that the area being referred to is not always clear. Many of the fishing communities are "CPD" (Census Designated Place)— "a statistical area defined for a census as a densely settled concentration of population that is not incorporated but which resembles an incorporated place in that it can be identified with a name." Or they are a subdivision of a county. Other Census data is based on school districts.

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