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

3. Measuring Fishery Dependency and Externalities in the New England NRR

3.1. Using Dependency Ratios
3.2. Fishery Dependency Ratios
3.3. Externalities Affecting Dependency Measures
3.4. Fishermen Individual-Level Characteristics and Dependence
3.5. Precautions in Defining Dependency
3.6. Establishing Dependency by Sub-Region
3.7. Summary

As noted in Chapter 2, after the Magnuson Act effectively eliminated foreign fleet competition by creating the 200-mile exclusive economic zone, the US government substantially expanded the fishing capacity of the domestic fleet by granting low-interest loans for fishing vessels. This change occurred virtually over night without analysis of the potential impact of such an expansion on fishery stocks and fishery-dependent populations in the coastal zone.

This promotion of vessel ownership, combined with technological advances in navigation and gear development, led to a great expansion in fishing capacity and effort and ultimately, proved disastrous for both fishing stocks and fishing communities and regions.78 For several years in New England, losses in fishery stocks combined with losses in regional total capital–social, cultural, human and economic capital characterized a declining industry and lowered fishing productivity.

Partially in response to such declines, the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) amended the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act (renamed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act) in 1996. SFA amendments and changes to the Magnuson Act include numerous provisions requiring science, management and conservation action by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). 79 Importantly, this Act provided fishery management guidance by establishing National Standards on such topics as overfishing, by-catch and fishing communities.

SFA reflects changes in the political ecology of management that has experienced an increase in the number and complexity of stakeholder groups and special interest agendas. Now commercial harvesters, recreational fishermen, fisheries managers, fishery scientists, fish processors, fishery unions, and environmental organizations are all part of the debate over the future and uses of fishery stocks. Out of this debate has come a recognition of the "fishing community" as a unit of management, and of fishing dependence as a potential gauge of regulatory impact.

Specifically, National Standard 8 states: "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."80

As a result of National Standard 8, all fishery management plans (FMPs) are now required to account for and assess the potential social and economic impacts to fishing communities of any particular management option under consideration. The caveat is that fishery conservation supercedes consideration of specific human (i.e. community) impacts from regulations. In many cases, councils use a regulatory impact review (RIR) in lieu of a community-based social impact assessment (SIA). An RIR differs from an SIA in that an RIR does not consider as important the historical dependence on and participation in a fishery by fishermen and communities (NMFS 1998).

A proper SIA requires that fishing dependence be measured in some way. Just what is a 'fishing community', and how we can measure 'fishery dependence' is not wholly answered in the legislation. Section 3(16) of the MSFCMA (16 U.S.C. 1802(16)) defines fishing community to mean "a community which is substantially dependent on, or 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." The NOAA General Counsel has interpreted "fishing community" as simply any place where vessel owners, operators, and crew or U.S. fish processors are based.

Small boat fleets run by family fishermen are not given specific consideration yet clusters of such boats are spread throughout New England and make up a large proportion of the total number of licensed vessels in the region. As coastal communities have developed, fishing has declined in its overall percentage contribution to local economies. Nevertheless, small- scale fishing enclaves or fishing ‘villages within towns’ define themselves not by their local community alone but through a network of connections with other such villages within other towns.

Such embedded villages have become more common as fishing fleets have shrunk and the value of commercial fishing dock space has risen. The small-scale fishery is presently endangered in places such as Cape Ann and the Gulf of Maine, where a shutdown of the inshore fishery via enlarged closed areas threatens the sustainability of the family-owned fleet. Commercial fishermen and processors are also concerned that a geographically based (site-specific) interpretation of dependence could harm "fishing communities" that are based on shared interest rather than shared place.

Efforts to develop a baseline description of New England fisheries have been sporadic and not linked to any conceptual-theoretical framework. Baseline data provides for measurement of change and adaptation brought on by adoption of new management measures or through other vectors of community change such as gentrification or environmental degradation. Baseline data collection should strive to establish a set of plainly understood benchmark terms and concepts that once communicated to managers become part of their decision-making tool kit. Research priorities can also be tailored to the identification of immediate and relevant information from a region or community.

Social scientists engaged in fisheries or fisheries-dependent community research may intuitively understand why a port profile or regional assessment is significant for anticipating the impacts of regulatory change. However, such understanding must be linked up to a theoretical framework that is understood by managers and social scientists alike for the data to have any cognitive relevance in their decision making. Explanations should build on what is known (the baseline template, or community profiles, regional assessments, and variables such as ‘educational level’ and ‘ethnicity’).

Since much of the government’s statistical database is aggregated to the county level, the county is a highly convenient unit for statistical interpretation of change processes. One solution to the problem of shifting baselines with a system under stress is to use measures that are independent of immediate flux in particular communities. Such measures can identify dependency at levels above the community, and thus fit well with a regional approach to dependency analysis and policy making.

While we suggest the use of this approach as one step towards improving knowledge about the likely impacts of regulatory change on fishing communities, we do caution that frequent "sampling" at the community level is needed to confirm the analyses. Furthermore, because the proposed measures rely on statistical data (regional census data) that is extremely limited in the numbers of parameters of interest, we strongly encourage the funding and use of in-depth studies on a regular basis.

3.1. Using Dependency Ratios Return to Top

Although measuring fishery dependence is considered crucial to recent management goals, few attempts to do so have been made.81 Developing comparative dependency ratios is one solution to the measurement of fishery dependence. Ratios of various forms are measures commonly used to analyze and compare independent population units with different age, income or social structures. A dependency ratio is a special application of the ratio approach that provides a summary measure of the relationship or dependency between two related but independent populations. This measure represents one of a family of standardization techniques commonly employed in demography to examine and describe aggregate population phenomena. Dependency ratios are useful because they allow one to make direct comparisons between independent groups rather than just describe a group’s proportionate share within the sample or universe of interest. An added advantage of the dependency ration is that, unlike Hoover and other dissimilarity indexes, dependency ratios are statistically insensitive to population size and so allow for direct comparisons across regions.

Dependency ratios compare some sample population (the numerator) against a base population (the denominator). The higher the ratio the higher the hypothetical dependence of the numerator population upon the denominator population. The youth dependency ratio is a common example of this type of application as employed in demographic research. In this case, the population aged 0 to 15 is divided by the total working aged population 16 to 64 years of age. The higher the resulting ratio the more young people the working aged population has to support. The lower this resulting ratio is the fewer young people the working-aged population has to support.82

Dependency ratios are used by economists83 , demographers84 , and both ecologists and coastal resource management researchers.85 Because of their flexibility of application and wide array of use within the social and physical sciences they are commonly recognized as a useful diagnostic tool for comparative research. However, our review of the literature found no direct application of dependency measures in the analysis of the regional management of fisheries, or in the delineation of fishery dependent communities. We are hopeful this application will add an additional useful diagnostic tool to this research discipline.

3.2. Community Measures of Fishery Dependence Return to Top

An ideal measure of the dependence of a community on a production sector accounts for the complexity of that sector and the contribution of that and other sectors to the overall community dynamic. Fishery components include the fishing fleet, transportation, processing/marketing, and related supply and repair businesses. However, management focuses on the fishing sector, with little attention paid elsewhere. Unfortunately, the regional census data we use to generate our comparative dependence measures also focuses on this sector. Our comparative fishing dependence measure is thus best viewed as a comparative tool to be tempered with the local ethnography of communities and regions. For example, Boston has historically had a central role in regional and international marketing of fishery products, yet has a small contemporary fleet for the size of the port. Thus, focusing on the harvesting sector for this port would underestimate the contribution of the marketing/transportation sectors to the overall fishing industry of Boston and the region. What should not be overlooked in the search for fisheries dependency is the equally important consideration, what we term "Essential Provider." While Boston’s harvesting sector is modest, the service Boston provides to other fishing communities is essential to their survival. The port profiles highlight the importance of retaining local-level data collection to complement the systematic regional efforts described herein.

One conceptualization of community that addresses dependence is the Natural Resource Community: "a population of individuals whose primary cultural existence depends upon the utilization of renewable natural resources." 86 Dependence in this community model is linked to cultural dependence on sustained fishery stocks. Declines in fishery stocks are therefore key to measurement of temporal changes in the fishing culture of communities and regions. However, external changes in the place and space of fishing communities (gentrification) can also force fishermen out of their occupational roles despite the ongoing sustainability of any available fishery stocks. This is accelerated when fishing efforts are reduced due to regulation or market influences.

Another community-centered attempt to measure fishery dependence stems from identification of social, cultural, and economic indicators, such as fishing monuments, fishing unions, and numbers of processing facilities to derive a Fishing Dependency Index (FDI) of the major ground fishing ports.87 Although Dyer and Griffith’s cumulative index included diverse indicators, it was not a comprehensive and dynamic measure. It did not link communities across common regions or measure changes in total capital forms across fisheries, since it was confined to the five identified primary ground fishing ports (New Bedford, Gloucester, Chatham, Point Judith, Portland) in New England.

3.3. Community Vulnerabilities and Externalities Affecting Fishery Dependence Return to Top

Change between and within fishing dependent communities is occurring at an ever-accelerating pace. Driven by externalities of development, changes transform the linkages between communities and regions and modify the contexts within which people live and work. In New England, the significant forces of gentrification are modifying the coastal areas. Gentrification is a nation-wide trend as more people of means are attracted to coastal areas as places to live, play, and own property. This trend often plays out as a direct threat to established enclaves and communities dedicated to commercial fishing.

The mystique of commercial fishing is often evoked in posters and brochures advertising the quaint characteristics of New England by the sea, despite the fact that in many of the places depicted, gentrification has forced commercial fishing to the brink of extinction. For example, in highly gentrified Hyannis, Massachusetts, fishing interests in the community have been squeezed into a small piece of the overall town dock with the highest docking and unloading fees ($1.00/foot of vessel length/day) in New England. This decline of space and place has occurred despite the fact that significant runs of valuable fish such as fluke are still found in waters off Hyannis. Fishermen, who would prefer to dock in Hyannis for safety and convenience, come from other ports specifically to target this rich resource. However, landing fish amounts to a potential 'crash derby' as boats wheel and turn in the small space to offload their fish product one at a time to an out-of-town fish trucker.88

Such transformations strain the ability of fishing enclaves and communities to reproduce their particular forms of total capital. Thus, social networks, access to marine resources, and commitment to the occupation of fishing are devalued, while other aspects such as recreational fishing, tourism, and vacation residence construction begin to dominate. The argument can be made that maintaining a mixed economy, which allows for both fishing dependent populations and new wave populations to co-exist, is a viable option. Yet, evidence shows that when the momentum for transformation to non-traditional (gentrified) processes takes hold without protection for existing fishing operations, essential and irreplaceable fishing infrastructure (ice houses, marine railways, fish processors) is often lost.

Essential fishing infrastructure is impossible to replace once an upward shift occurs in property values and uses.89 In the past, traditional fishing communities have not had any need for protective adaptations to resist such change. The energy to fight such changes divides the attention and efforts of fishing populations to survive such a dynamic. This is particularly true when they are also burdened by increasingly numerous and complex fishing regulations, described as regulatory layering.90

A recent example of this is the transformation of the Mississippi coast from a multi-ethnic fishing culture of Southeast Asians, Black and Whites to a gentrified row of gambling casinos (dockside gambling). Shoreside, nothing remains of the once thriving fishing cultures of Biloxi and Ocean Springs. Remnants struggle to survive in the backwaters and upstream inaccessible for casino development. In the New England sub-NRRs, the strong dependence on marine biophysical capital makes it crucial to recognize how management choices can affect community sustainability.

Downeast Maine, with a rugged coastline and strong dependence on fishing is one of the poorest areas in the region. Any curtailment of access to the fisheries could seriously hamper the ability of locals to make a living. In a social impact assessment of the New England herring fishery, Dyer, Poggie and Hall-Arber demonstrated crucial dependence on the herring-processing sector in several coastal communities. 91 At that time, fishery managers were considering allowing offshore processing of the fish. Locals anticipated that such a step would effectively put the onshore processing sector out of business, disenfranchising up to a thousand workers and creating economic hardship and total capital losses across these fishing-dependent communities.

3.4. Fishermen Individual-level Characteristics and Dependence Return to Top

Not everyone can be a fisherman, and once a person becomes a successful fisherman, it is very difficult for him or her to assume other occupational roles. The steps to fishing success entail a highly selective process characterized by investments of time and behavior. Individuals who are thus selected tend to be uniquely suited for this occupational role, which tends to preclude their being selected to other ones.

Fishing is a hunting activity that has psycho-cultural requirements unmatched in any other contemporary occupation. Because the hunting lifestyle is rare today, it is hard for persons who have not studied or experienced this life strategy to understand the motivations and requirements that make one a successful hunter at sea. Nevertheless, we argue that fishing is unique in our contemporary space and time and requires special understanding and consideration in its management.

Dependence on natural resources necessarily limits occupational roles of residents and can result in an intense assimilation of some offspring to the fishing lifestyle.92 Part of the assimilation process occurs through the incorporation of appropriate newcomers and youth into existing social relations and cooperative networks. Another part of this process comes in the form of self-selection by those who have the necessary psycho-cultural prerequisites to be successful in this way of life. Assimilation coincides with the creation of boundaries that protect these established networks of social capital against external (competing) networks.93

Boundaries are also defined by the sharing of special knowledge on where, when, and how to fish targeted species. These boundaries can be distinctive enough to delimit fisheries even within communities by gear type, ethnicity, or by generation.94 In communities homogeneous by gear type, such as the lobster gangs of Mid-coast Maine studied by Acheson, knowledge is shared by distinct groupings that have territories established by tradition and effort, and which are informally protected and respected.95 Other characteristics include limits on the sharing of knowledge between kin and gangs and a high degree of personal independence.96

On the psycho-cultural level, Poggie provides strong support for the idea that a deferred gratification orientation is inherent in being successful at small-scale fishing and is therefore one of the psycho-cultural components of a maritime life.97 Deferred gratification provides the psycho-cultural underpinnings for anticipation and management of uncertainty in resource availability. This is clearly adaptive in fishing communities where fluctuations in annual catch and market conditions contribute to high periodicity of income. For example, this attribute allows individuals to save monetary resources when abundant to provide a reserve for potentially leaner seasons ahead. Those who are unable to defer gratification are unlikely to be successful as fishermen or to remain long in this occupational culture.

The indices we are advocating in this paper should not be taken to mean that fishing is a highly fungible activity. In other words, alternative occupations are not easily substituted or exchanged for fishing as an occupation or as a way of life. A cultural dependence on renewable natural resources that must be hunted and the behavioral characteristics of fishing populations has long insured the continuity of a tradition of fishing.98

This argument is most applicable to the small to medium-scale operations characteristic of inshore lobstermen, day, and short-trip fishermen that also have a high preponderance of owner operators. Larger-scale operations such as scallop boats out of New Bedford that formerly employed as many as 13-15 men (before regulations set a 7-member crew limit) were less likely to rely on "traditional" fishermen. Crewmembers tended to be "young men with strong backs" rather than necessarily individuals with particular psycho-cultural characteristics, members of fishing families or a fishing way of life. Interestingly, Pollnac and Poggie found fishermen in the port of New Bedford had the lowest overall level of job satisfaction in their New England regional sample.99 Nevertheless, when the large-scale operations were scaled back due to restrictive management measures, some of the vessels returned to a more traditional crew composition with kin and friends having first priority for job retention.

Factors such as ethnic barriers and economic marginality can also affect measures of fishing dependency among individuals. Before the Gloucester dragger fleet was decimated by stock declines and regulations, many crew were middle-aged Sicilian immigrants with poor English language skills and little occupational experience outside of fishing, and thus were highly dependent on fishing. 100

Such dependence is not easily modified because it is so specifically linked to utilization of a particular biophysical resource–fish. This affects how people work and live, the schedule of their lives, their desires and needs as well as the uncertainty and risk required for success in this way of life. Given the occupational characteristics and the special forms of cultural capital needed to extract resource from nature, it is very wrenching for individuals to attempt to change their way of life and pursue a different occupation. In many cases it is impossible for individuals to do so. This fact can lead to severely negative psychological, family, and social consequences.

In their study of the structure of job satisfaction among New England fishermen, Pollnac and Poggie used nine different measures of this construct. 101 These were drawn from a principal component analysis of the 22 items shown in Table 1. Two of the most significant questions asked whether the respondent would still go into fishing if he had his life to live over and whether he would advise a young person to go into fishing. Whether or not the respondent said he would go into fishing if he had his life to live over is a measure that is considered by many researchers to be the best single indicator of job satisfaction.102

While the relationship of job satisfaction to other variables such as port, age, owner-skipper status, and type of fishing is very complex, for the overall New England sample (Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island), the high level needs factor is the strongest predictor of the job satisfaction measure. Thus, the factor considered the best single indicator of job satisfaction is whether a person said he would go into fishing if he had his life to live over. This finding indicates that self-actualization is an important component of job satisfaction among New England fishermen. 103 This is contrary to the opinion expressed by some that fishermen only care about making money (the ‘greedy’ fisherman/tragedy of the commons stereotype).

Table 1. Rotated factor loadings of job satisfaction items on middle-level, basic, and high-level needs factors(modified after Pollnac and Poggie 1988)
Job characteristics Needs Factors
Time away from home
.81 .09 .21
Hours spent working
.72 .25 .17
Time for recreation/family activities
.71 .06 .12
Ability to come and go as desired
.61 -.12 .41
Time it takes to get to grounds
.47 .21 .14
Doing deckwork on vessel
.41 .12 .40
Opportunity to be own boss
.39 -.21 .34
Community in which live
.39 .12 .21
-.03 .59 .02
Physical fatigue of job
.03 .56 .02
Predictability of earnings
.11 .49 .08
Mental pressure on job
.18 .48 .03
Job safety
.19 .45 .11
.19 .36 -.15
.21 .31 .26
Being out on the water
.14 -.02 .71
.16 .05 .71
Challenge of job
.18 -.01 .66
Working outdoors
.23 .08 .57
Feeling job is worthwhile
.12 .28 .51
Peace of mind
.28 .24 .34
Performance of of state and federal officials
.20 -.15 .22

Given the argument that fishermen must be uniquely psycho-culturally adapted to be successful at their work, it stands to reason that people who have been in fishing for an extended period would tend to have the greatest number of these characteristics. Individuals lacking such characteristics would be likely to seek alternative employment. Over time there would be a tendency for such characteristics to dominate a fishing fleet. Furthermore, this argues that any group of successful fishermen would be unlikely to be suited to a 9 to 5 working environment. This is anecdotally confirmed with fishermen who have tried other occupations such as engineer, oceanographer, gas station attendant, or truck driver but found that they were dissatisfied and returned to fishing. These were all people with prior experience fishing and who returned to it because it better suited them. These observations suggest why fungibility (or interchangeability) of fishing with other occupations is so difficult. This not only affects how one looks at the construct of "dependency on fishing" but also raises the important issue of job satisfaction and its many known implications for health and well-being of individuals and families.

In the aforementioned analyses by Pollnac and Poggie, they argue that job satisfaction is a pivotal variable in people’s lives. Job satisfaction profoundly impinges on people’s mental and physical health, and low job satisfaction can result in increased family violence and other psycho-cultural and psychosocial maladies. Fishermen as a group express a high degree of job satisfaction:

"I have been in this business for 45 years, and if I had to go back and do it over again — I would."

"Fishing is my life — I love being out there on the water"

‘This is the greatest job in the world — because you have no boss, and are free out there on the water."

"In fishing you set your own hours — you can work hard or not, depending on how much money you want to earn — it’s all up to you."

A reduction in job satisfaction can accompany fishermen who are well adapted to and selected for fishing when they are forced to transfer to jobs they are not well suited for. Fungibility thus is a key consideration that amplifies the dependency factor of individuals on fishing and collectively of populations of individuals within communities and regions on the fishing industry. This is especially true in populations of well-established fishermen who remain in the industry even though it is difficult to do so at this time because of low stock levels and corresponding government regulations.

3.5. Precautions in Defining Dependency Return to Top

It is extremely important to note that strictly defined, "fishing-dependent communities," as stand-alone, independent entities are very rare in contemporary settings. As the core of fishing’s cultural, social, and economic activity is surrounded by non-fishing development, the percentage contribution of the fishing-related activity to the total capital of the community may be diminished, particularly with regard to occupational numbers. Just fifteen years ago, there were over 90 medium to large-scale draggers with 5 to 7 men crews in Gloucester Harbor, today fewer than a dozen are in operation, most with smaller crews. Nevertheless, the economic impact of fishing activities remains high in Gloucester with significant landings and exchange associated with the two-year old display auction.

Other smaller ports, such as the fishing communities of New Hampshire, may retain infrastructure and fleet size despite an increase in surrounding coastal development. A 1978 study (Acheson et al) of Seabrook/Hampton, Rye and Portsmouth describes extant fishing activities and infrastructure within a context of surrounding gentrification and development. In 1978 the Seabrook /Hampton fishing complex consisted of 35 lobster boats and 12 vessels that participated in dragging, gillnetting, and/or switched gear to pursue herring or sea urchins. Twenty years later, the number of vessels has remained essentially unchanged, although over half the draggers are inactive because of closures and other restrictions on catch. Other changes include declines in numbers of individuals hired as crew. Many fishermen are "going it alone" and often migrating seasonally to other areas to fish species such as monk fish and dogfish.

Overall, fifty commercial fishing vessels, both the operative and idle, still grace the port facility near Seabrook. However, tourist development in nearby Hampton has increased tremendously over the last twenty years. During the summer peak, fishermen and their families are lost in a swarm of thousands of daily visitors taking advantage of the nearby diversions - beach facilities, restaurants, hotels, bars, and nightclubs. Thus, the overall contribution of the fishing sector has declined dramatically in twenty years, but the scale of fishing remains essentially constant, although seriously threatened by recent fishing regulations. Moreover, even though the contribution of fishing to the local economy has declined, and no one could describe tourist-driven Hampton as a "fishing dependent community," the infrastructure and social yield of fishing has been sustained. However, looking at our dependency indices puts the New Hampshire ports in the lowest third of fishing dependency (Table 2).

Consequently, we cautiously use the concept of dependency and ask: (1) what is the total collective contribution of such communities to local and regional fishing commerce, and (2) what would be the total capital replacement costs if we allowed such communities to be destroyed by management regulations that fail to take into account regional and spatial differences in total capital interactions in fisheries?

The tourist restaurants and hotels of Hampton, for example, have no real substitute to offer their customers if the fresh fish and traditional ambiance provided by the local fleet is lost. Moreover we cannot discount survivorship of total fishing capital in the face of surrounding development and growth. Managers should identify and conserve fishing facilities and populations that collectively provide a substantial benefit to the overall fishery commerce of a region, even if such commerce does not dominate the economy of a specific town or city.

If "fishing dependent communities" are so narrowly defined that only towns or cities that are "substantially dependent on … fishing resources …" are considered in the analysis, a large portion of the regional total fishing capital, and therefore, fishery commerce, of the New England Natural Resource Region could be ruined. In fact, we contend that the only communities that could possibly fit such a narrow interpretation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s definition of ‘fishing dependency’ would be relatively isolated lobstering villages such as Jonesport, Cutler, or Beals Island in Downeast Maine.

While we use occupational census data to identify dependency on fishing in the context of the surrounding village, town or city, and offer further analysis based on the degree of gentrification, individual community profiles reveal critical details (cultural capital variables) that temper the number-driven rankings of dependency. For example:

  • Ethnicity: ethnic and language barriers make it difficult to transfer to alternate occupational roles. Examples include Portuguese and Sicilian fishermen (New Bedford, Gloucester) faced with language and educational barriers, and less obviously, Downeast Mainers faced with cultural and dialectical differences. For example, Mainers face job discrimination from a telemarketing firm that will not hire locals "because of their accent" (key respondent, Jonesport, Maine).
  • Adaptive specialization, meaning people successful at fishing are not well suited for other occupational roles, and may be limited by these characteristics to fishing. Adaptive specialization includes a strong need for independence, inability to tolerate fixed temporal (9 to 5) schedules, deferred gratification orientation, and tolerance of temporal periodicity in familial and other social relationships.
  • High job satisfaction in fishing, and a correspondingly strong resistance to switching jobs due to the characteristics noted above.
  • A strong sense of place, meaning fishermen and their families identify with a location on land and water that serves as a nexus for their sense of community. Connection to this specific place also helps build their self-reliance, meaning their ability to utilize local, on-hand (spatially bound) resources for daily problem solving, survival, extraction, and exchange. Further, sense of place both limits and grounds fisher folk’s experiences to their location, while giving them familiarity and constancy–things leads to a high quality of life including social, emotional, and cultural stability. This accounts for the high mental, social and physical health of fisher folk under normal conditions compared to the wider populace (Caritas Christi 1996). Conditions which can abrogate this sense of place include forced seasonal migration when local stocks cannot provide income or fishing them is restricted by regulations, or complete collapse of local resource from environmental disaster or overexploitation.

What this Model of Dependency Does Not Yet Include

Alluded to above, dependency measures used here do not incorporate comparative economic data. While this project complements one refining an economic model, the work is being done simultaneously, so we are not able to compare the results of the different approaches. Held in abeyance, then, is a fourth index of dependency that should be compared to the three indices described here, that is, economic value of landings and/or product sales within a community.

Dependency of a community on particular resources is necessarily affected by the value of those resources. It is conceivable that the ratio comparing numbers of individuals dependent on fishing relative to those in other occupations could be small even though the value of the landings are high. Yet incomes and expenditures associated with the value of the landings may provide tax-generated revenue and other benefits to the community that make it more dependent on fisheries-related activity than is predicted by the dependency model suggested here. This deficiency is, we believe, partially countered by the richness of the depiction of total capital flow (social, cultural and economic variables) and the community profiles in this report. Nevertheless, as the model is applied elsewhere, the importance of the fishing industry’s revenue generation should not be ignored.

3.6. Establishing Dependence by Sub-Region Return to Top

Using the individual human characteristics and community dynamic of the NRC model, we propose a regional approach. In this approach, the New England NRR is divided into sub-NRRs consisting of networks of NRCs that are held together by flows of total capital (Dyer and Poggie 2000). Although each is not totally unique, it is clearly distinct in its combination of characteristics from its adjacent sub-Regions.

Sub-regions consist of one or more coastal counties, and hence represent useful clusters for socioeconomic and demographic analysis of the changing human dynamics of coastal fisheries. The dynamic includes the human, social, cultural, and biophysical components that make up the system. This system can then be modified or transformed in ways that can either negatively or positively influence the sustainability of fishery dependent communities (the NRCs within the system). A negative impact would be one where the fishery dependent sector (fishing boats, families, fish processors, transporters, and suppliers) and the total capital it comprises would be lost from the system, or transformed in a way that leads to its loss at some proximate future point.

Embedded within any of the eleven sub-NRRs are both dispersed clusters of fishing vessels-fishing households, related infrastructure, and communities sharing both fishing place and culture. Whether fishermen and their families and support networks live and work from "clusters" or from more distinctively identifiable communities, defining dependence within regions is key in the mitigation of harmful regulatory impacts.104 Even though each of our indices is distinct and emphasizes particular aspects of dependency, we suggest that they are sufficiently similar in that they should co-vary and hence provide a measure of convergent validity of our measures of the underlying construct of fisheries dependence.

The eleven sub-NRRs of New England are, from south to north, (1) the Connecticut Seacoast, (2) Rhode Island, (3) New Bedford and the South Shore, (4) the Cape and Islands, (5) the Boston Area, (6) Gloucester/the North Shore, (7) New Hampshire Seacoast, (8) Southern Maine, (9) Lower Mid-Coast Maine, (10) Upper Mid-Coast Maine, and (11) Downeast Maine.

Dependency Indices

We propose to systematically measure fishery dependence in the eleven sub-NRRs using three indices. These are: (1) the percentage of labor force in fishing, (2) the percentage of related occupations within the Bureau of Labor Statistics category of fisheries /forestry/ farming, and (3) a summary measure of a series of dependency ratios that explore the number of fishermen per hundred to various alternative occupational roles that fishermen could enter with their particular skill profiles. Of the three, the most heuristically useful, and the one that provides the best tool for comparison across sub-NRRs, is the occupational alternatives index, discussed in detail below.

Measures 1 and 2, examine other aspects of the relationship of fishing to the region. Measure 1 is the simple percentage of fishermen to other occupations in the sub-NRR region.

S fishermen  * 100
S all occupations
  Measure 1

This measure reflects the assumption that the higher the overall percentage of fishermen making up the labor force, the more dependent the particular sub-NRR is on fishing. Our second measure, the proportion of fishermen in relation to other occupations in the Bureau of Labor Statistics defined category of fishing/farming/forestry also assumes the higher the percentage of fishermen in this category, the more dependent a sub-NRR is on fishing.

S fishermen  * 100
S BLS category (l)
  Measure 2

This measure is useful since most analysis of economic regions do not look specifically at fishermen but rather look at their broader occupational group of fishing/ farming/ forestry. The use of this measure provides us with a conservative estimated that can be compared across other studies related to the sub-NRR regions using economic or BLS based analysis of economic activity. Caution needs to be employed, however, as the measure represents a mixed category with fishermen as only a portion.

Our third index is, the Occupational Alternative Ratio Summary (OARs). This measure is more complex than the more straightforward proportion and ratios described above. OARs is an attempt to summarize a standard array of independent occupational alternative ratios within regions in a manner that provides a single measure of the impact of fishing upon the region in relation to other occupations available to people engaged in commercial fishing. The OARs measure emphasizes both the importance of fishing as an occupation to individual participants in the local labor force and the dependency of the local economy on the fishing industry.

The OARs measure is constructed in a series of steps. First, a series of occupational alternative dependency ratios (OAR) are calculated for a predetermined set of occupations. These OAR measures represent a standard set of alternative occupations that are compatible with the basis skills and training that are part of the fishing occupation. It is assumed that a fisherman could take up any one of these occupations but chooses not to, due to satisfaction with their current position as a fisherman. The alternative occupations identified and employed in this analysis consist of 13 occupations ranging from mechanical trades to unskilled labor and active unemployment.105 While this occupation set is not argued to be exhaustive, it is felt to represent a reasonable approximation of the potential occupation set open to fishermen in all 11 of the NRRs identified above. The OAR measures are calculated using the standard formula for a dependency ratio:

S fishermen  * 100
alternative occupation (i)
  Measure 3

where (i) is the total number of individuals engaged in the ith alternative occupation.

Once the 13 OAR measures have been calculated they are then summed into a single measure of the total impact of fishing on an economic region

formula for measure 4   Measure 4

Where N=13 in this specific instance.

The OARs measure summarizes the average potential impact that the size of the fishing industry has upon the supply of labor for alternative occupations within individual NNRs. The OARs measure provides two valuable insights into the importance of the fishing industry. First, it tells us the relative competitiveness of the fishing industry within a specific NRR. The higher the OARs score the more important fishing is as an economic occupation within the NRR compared to the alternative occupation set. A score of 100 or greater suggests that, on average, fishing serves as the primary employment for as many individuals as are employed in any one of the typical alternative occupations. A score below 100 suggests that, on average, fishing serves as the primary employment for fewer individuals than are working in any one of the typical alternative occupations. Second, the OARs score suggests the potential impact on the local labor force of a specific NRR if fishing should suddenly cease as viable occupation.

Looking at the Downeast Maine NRR for example, it is seen that this sub-region has an OARs score of 255, indicating the powerful impact that fishing has on the region as a primary occupation. If fishing should suddenly cease however the OARs score suggests that there would be two and one half fishermen for every individual working in a single alternative occupation on average. Thus, if any one occupational alternative were more attractive to former fishermen, then the labor supply for this occupation would immediately be saturated. This could result in the driving down of wages and depressing the overall labor market as alternative but less attractive occupations were sought by fishermen.

In contrast, the Connecticut Seacoast NRR with an OARs score of only 2.61 shows that fishing has little or no measurable impact on the overall economic strength of the sub-region. If fishing were to end as an occupation in this NRR then the dispossessed fishermen would represent an increase in the labor pool of only two and one half workers per hundred workers in any average alternative occupation. In this case, fishermen could easily be absorbed into the existing labor force economy without significant disruption to the NRR occupational structure.

The OARs index is a straightforward and easily interpreted measure but it represents only a summary measure that fails to capture the richness of the cultural life that underlies fishing as an occupation and as an avocation. Specifically, the OARs does not address the question of occupational fungibility (i.e., interchangeability). While the movement of fishermen to other occupational roles is clearly possible, Measure 3 implicitly assumes that the skills involved in fishing are readily transferable. As we have discussed, this assumption is contrary to the characteristics of fishermen, the nature of their community dependencies, and consequently the very form and direction of capital flows within regions.

Sample Design

The file used in this analysis is the 1990 Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Special File (US Bureau of the Census, 1994). The EEO data files and tabulations have represented the primary recognized source of national and subnational estimates of detailed employment for the United States during the decades of 1980 to 1990 and 1990 to 2000. The information is drawn directly from civilian labor force data gathered as part of the Decennial Census and is primarily intended to provide occupational and educational attainment data to support affirmative action planning for equal employment opportunity. The EEO file for the 1990 Census year consists of two sets of cross tabulations for the United States civilian labor force. The first set of tables, which is used for this analysis, provides data for 512 occupational categories by sex, race, and Hispanic origin. The second set of files that we employ in this analysis provides detailed information on educational attainment.

The EEO data files used to generate estimates is based on the 1990 census sample. The data are estimates of the actual figures that would have been obtained from a complete count. When all Census samples on occupation are accounted for across the Nation for the 1990 Census period, approximately one out of every six households in the United States were included in the 1990 EEO census sample file on occupation. It is the size of the EEO sample that makes it particularly attractive to the purposes of this analysis. Fishing as an occupation does not include a sizable portion of the total US population and as a result most samples are too small to allow us to look at the concentration of fishermen in any specific area.

While studies that focus on fishermen and fishing communities do exist, the number of individuals included in the study are generally small and cannot be generalized to the broader population. Because the EEO files provide detailed occupation down to a sub-county level we are able to exactly reconstruct the total population of fishermen within each of the 11 defined NRR’s in the New England area. Using the EEO files we can also reconstruct total employment within each member of our set of alternative occupations that fishermen could engage in. At present, no other data set of this size and detail exists so it represents the best tool available for our research design.

Assessment of Indices

In Table 2, we have rank ordered the sub-NRRs by our first index (% related occupations), with Downeast Maine being the most fishing dependent and Connecticut Seacoast the least. It is quite clear from the correlation coefficients between and among the indices (Table 3) that there is a high degree of concordance, indicating a strong convergent validity for the measures.

A second observation from inspecting the data in these three indices is that there are three fairly homogeneous clusters of rankings, with Downeast and Upper Mid-Coast Maine, and Cape Cod and the Islands (I) being the most fishery dependent sub-NRRs. New Bedford/ South Shore, Rhode Island, Lower Mid-Coast Maine, Southern Maine, and Gloucester/North Shore (II) form an intermediate cluster of dependency. New Hampshire Seacoast, Boston Area and Connecticut Seacoast (III) cluster as the least dependent grouping. We shall discuss in detail the characteristics of each sub-NRR as reflected in the ethnographic and geographic setting of each region and as evident in our OAR ratio index.

Table 2. Comparative Fishing Dependence Indices for the Eleven Sub-NRRs of New England
Sub-NRR A. % Related Occupations B. % Of Total Employed C. Alternative Occupation Ration Summary
Downeast Maine 45 3.6 255.54
Upper Midcoast ME 36 2.0 171.05
Cape and Islands 27 0.79 104.43
Lower Midcoast ME 23 0.46 51.32
New Bedford/South Shore 27 0.40 38.95
Southern Maine 23 0.39 36.94
Rhode Island 24 0.31 30.86
Gloucester/North Shore 20 0.21 24.91
New Hampshire Coast 8 0.09 9.46
Boston Area 7 0.05 6.39
Connecticut Coast 2 0.01 2.61


Table 3. Comparing the Three Dependency Ratios Using Pearsons r-Correlation
Dependency ratios % Related Occupations % Of Total Employed Alternative Occupation Ration Summary
% Related Occupations r = 1.0 r = .833 r = .869
% of Total Employed r = .833 r = 1.0 r = .984
Alternative Occupation Ratio Summary r = .869 r = .984 r = 1.0

Downeast, Upper Mid-Coast Maine and Cape Cod and the Islands

The three sub-NRRs in the high dependency cluster share some characteristics that give them strong links to the fisheries resources of New England. Downeast and Upper-Midcoast Maine share a common topography and isolation from other parts of Maine and New England. Inland, the Downeast sub-NRR is characterized by rocky, shallow soil and pine forests, with most of the near-coast interior being wetlands mixed with forest. The convoluted coastline however provides a plethora of islands and harbors offering easy access to extraordinarily rich fishing grounds.

The peninsula of Cape Cod is also bordered with natural harbors and associated fishing dependent communities such as Sandwich, Chatham, and Provincetown. Nearby islands such as Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard have a strong historical connection to fishing and a geography which gives fishing residents ease of access to nearshore stocks of finfish and shellfish. However, the Cape and Islands are a magnitude below the NRRs of Maine (2.87 on Index C. compared to 5.50 for Upper Mid-Coast Maine and 8.92 for Downeast Maine) since they have experienced intense pressures from tourism and gentrification. For example, Provincetown, MA has long been a summer mecca for artists and those with an alternative lifestyle, while maintaining a separate but equally thriving, year-around fishing industry. As the summer season has started to extend into the spring and fall, the relative balance may be shifting. Due to the diminishing groundfish catches and regulatory response, the fishing fleet is currently down to a dozen vessels from over thirty a decade ago.

On the other end, Chatham, MA continues to support a thriving small boat fleet that engages a good third of the active (non-retired) working force of the township. Within Chatham, a strong sense of place and enjoyment of the fishing lifestyle keep people involved in the industry even in years when low catches force some into alternative occupations or seasonal out-migration. 106

3.7. Summary Return to Top

The use of dependency indicators in the eleven sub-NRRs of the New England management region provides a new way to conceptualize the significance of fishing to local economies and regions.107 Using these indicators, we can clearly see a distinction between the most and least dependent regions, and these differences are supported by regional and community ethnographies.

There is also a high level of agreement between the indices with r-values of .833 (A-B), .869 (A-C) and .984 (B-C). Using the most differentiated ratio (C), Downeast Maine, Upper Mid-Coast Maine and Cape and the Islands form a cluster as the most fishing dependent sub-NRRs, ranging from 255.54 —104.43, with a mean of 176.88. The sub-NRRs 4 through 8 range from 51.32 (Lower Mid-Coast Maine) to 24.91 (Gloucester/North Shore), with a mean of 35.59. Sub-NRRs 9 through 11 (New Hampshire Seacoast, Boston Area, and Connecticut Seacoast) have the lowest scores, from 9.46 to 2.61, with a mean of 6.1.

Within all these regions, however, fishing infrastructure and fishermen populations are intermixed with gentrified coastal economies and communities that overtly subsume and mask total capital contributions of fishing. Though the distribution of fishing infrastructure and activities make it difficult to identify and characterize particular communities as "fishery dependent," examination of the networks of fisheries activities (total capital flows) reveals significant fishery dependency. In other words, consideration of its collective impact on regional economies and its historical contribution to localized secondary economies (i.e., the "multiplier effect") suggests the valuable contribution of fishing in several regions.

Any index has as its underpinning assumptions of about how the world works. The three dependency indices we have derived assume that fishermen are able to move into alternative occupations. As we indicate above, however, there are compelling reasons why this is not an accurate assumption. We would like to add this observation to the debate on how one should assess dependency of a fishing population. The analysis of impacts of fisheries regulations must include consideration of traditional fishing populations that have survived the biological and regulatory downturns in the fishery. Just as biologists extol the use of the precautionary principal in fisheries management, we propose a corresponding precautionary principal for extant fishing populations. The baseline economic, social, and cultural needs of surviving fishing enclaves, populations, and communities within the eleven sub-NRRs of New England should be given equal importance with conservation principals. Along with fish stocks, fishing populations and their communities are highly vulnerable. If measured too simplistically, their overall contribution to regional economies may be missed in an adherence to strict measures of contributions to site-specific community economies.

The myth that laissez-faire economies are both desirable and sustainable is contradicted by the inexorable destruction traditional communities can suffer when such economies run unchecked over established patterns of community living and their unique forms of human, social and cultural capital.108 Preserving human uniqueness can be compared to conservation development that strives to preserve landscape and existing ecosystem structures while allowing for the creation of built environments. While change is inherent to the human condition and can provide welcome improvements in a community’s or individual’s quality of life, if the full range of social, economic, political and ecological variables are ignored, the consequences may be detrimental to individuals, communities, and the ecosystem.

In applying measures of fishing dependency to the sub-NRRs of New England, we outline the uniqueness of each unit, but also caution that for purposes of application to dependency issues, only detailed sub-regional and community analysis can reveal the whole story. Since this study represents the establishment of a baseline index, we suggest that comparative regional analyses must be linked to in-depth studies of the full range of variables to predict impacts of fisheries policy and regulation.

78 Griffith and Dyer 1996; Dyer and Poggie 2000
80 SEC. 301. NATIONAL STANDARDS FOR FISHERY 16 U.S.C. 1851 (104-297)
81 Griffith and Dyer 1996
82 Weeks (1989).
83 Mason (1988), Horrell and Humphries (1992) and Frankel (1992)
84 Massey (1987), Ahlburg (1993), Ahlburg and Vaupel (1990) and Jiang (1994)
85 Howarth (1988), Levitan (1992), Johnson and Carpenter (1994), Livingston (1991), Mangel (1993).
86 Dyer et al (1992).
87 Griffith and Dyer (1996)
88 Dyer, Poggie and Hall-Arber (2000).
89 Griffith and Dyer (1996), Bergeron, personal communication (1999)
90 Dyer, Poggie and Hall-Arber (2000)
91 Dyer, Poggie and Hall-Arber (2000)
92 Firestone (1967), Ruddle (1994)
93Acheson (1987); Palmer (1994).
94Acheson (1987); Griffith and Dyer (1996); Dyer and Leard (1994)
95Acheson (1985)
96Palmer (1994; 1991; 1990), Griffith and Dyer 1996, Dyer and Poggie (2000)
97Poggie (1978)
98Characteristics typical of successful fishermen include: ability to defer gratification, ability to adapt to working non-traditional hours, and a profound need for personal independence as well as a proclivity for working on the sea and a devotion to family traditions.
99Pollnac and Poggie (1988)
100Griffith and Dyer (1996)
101Pollnac and Poggie (1988)
102Robinson, Athanison and Herd (1969).
103Maslow (1954)
104Dyer and McGoodwin (1999)
105The thirteen occupational categories are: (1) security guard, (2) food service/janitor, (3) trees and farming, (4) mechanics, (5) skilled construction, (6) machine operators, (7) manufacturing, (8) hand workers (9) truck drivers (10) marine related, (11) laborers & helpers, (12) manufacturing/other, and (13) unemployed.
106Rene Gagne, personal communication.
107Because our findings are based on the most recent available census data – 1990, it is important that our measures be interpreted as ordinal, not interval, measures. The assumption underlying this is that the relative size of populations of fishermen and others have remained the same. We know that absolute numbers have changed in all regions since 1990. It is important that our work be replicated once the 2000 census data become available.
108 Gerdsen (1997)

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