Fishing Communities

Fishing has long been an economic mainstay of Massachusetts. Gloucester, founded in 1623 by a fishing company, often ranks among the top 10 ports in the nation in fisheries landings while New Bedford has boasted the highest value of landings in the past few years. MIT Sea Grant works with fishing and coastal communities to understand the issues—environmental, social, and regulatory—that affect community members' lives and livelihood. Our research, liaison, and outreach efforts are designed to identify problems and seek solutions that balance fishing communities' needs with the critical goal of sustaining a healthy environment. Current projects include:

Directory of North American Social Scientists

DOWNLOAD :: Directory of North American Social Scientists (Version 23 - Apr. 18, 2018)

Social scientists work in a wide variety of marine-related fields focusing on such areas as commercial and recreational fishing, coastal zone management, marine resources management, and environmental change. Policy, economics, and social impact assessment are just a few of their their topics of interest.

Some social scientists are housed in academic institutions in various departments, while others work in consulting firms or government agencies. Recently, dedicated funding has been offered for social science research (e.g., by the National Office of Sea Grant) and diverse social science articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Furthermore, social scientists have increasingly been invited to participate in interdisciplinary research projects. Nevertheless, perhaps because of their diverse areas of expertise, titles, and work locations, identifying social scientists is not always easy or straight-forward.

Consequently, here at MIT Sea Grant, we decided to create a directory of social scientists. We anticipated that this directory would be very valuable for scholars seeking expertise in other fields for interdisciplinary projects; for journals interested in identifying peer reviewers; for graduate students who need mentors or outside committee members; and for managers who have issues that would benefit from addressing social-cultural factors or other aspects of human dimensions.

Herring Management In The Northeast

Herring is not overfished, nor is overfishing occurring in the herring fishery in the Northeast U.S. Nevertheless, conflicting demands for access to herring make careful management a high priority. Herring is the bait of choice for Maine's lobstermen.  A plethora of species, including humpback whales, seabirds, groundfish, striped bass and squid, forage on herring. Humans too have an appetite for this pelagic species. Two projects focus on social impacts of herring management.

Managers are required by law to include a social impact assessment (SIA) when they develop new regulations (fishery management plans). Rarely does anyone look at prior SIAs to determine if they correctly anticipated the effects of past management efforts. Researchers at MIT Sea Grant and UMass-Boston are writing the final report on a two-year collaborative research effort, Socioeconomic impacts of herring fisheries management in the Northeast: Looking back to move forward, to analyze Amendments 1-4 to the Herring FMP. Five community researchers joined anthropologist, Madeleine Hall-Arber, of MIT Sea Grant and economist, Sylvia Brandt, of UMASS Boston on the project that was funded by the National Marine Fisheries' Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program.

Amendment 5 to the Herring Management Plan is currently being developed. MIT Sea Grant's social scientist is working with the New England Fishery Management Council staff to develop the requisite social impact assessment for this new amendment. (Photo: NOAA)

Cape Ann Fresh Catch - Community Supported Fishery

Cape Ann Fresh Catcha Gloucester, Massachusetts-based Community Supported Fishery or CSF, founded in the summer of 2009, continues to evolve. Modeled on Community Supported Agriculture programs, CSF members give the fishing community financial support in advance of the harvesting season; in turn the fishermen provide a weekly share of seafood during the season to shareholders. During its trial run, the program proved so popular that additional subscription series were added and it now distributes fish year-around.

The program has had as many as 900 subscribers in 16 communities, providing benefits to the fishermen, Gloucester, the ecology and the consumers. Cape Ann Fresh Catch is a project of the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association (GFWA), with support from Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance; MIT Sea Grant; Turner's Seafood, Ocean Crest Seafood, the Cape Ann fishermen and their crews; the staff and volunteers of the CAFC; and last, the CAFC CSF members.

Trade Adjustment Assistance Training for Lobstermen

MIT Sea Grant helped Massachusetts Lobsterman's Association (MLA) file a petition in fall 2010 under the USDA Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts's lobster industry. Evidence was provided to support the claim that prices and production of American lobster in Massachusetts were negatively affected by foreign imports in 2009. On September 24, 2010, that petition was certified, paving the way for the Commonwealth's lobstermen to receive benefits through the TAA program.

The TAA program provides free technical training and cash benefits for eligible farmers and fishermen whose businesses have experienced adverse impacts from foreign imports. The program is designed to help individuals increase profitability, improve production efficiency, consider marketing opportunities, and evaluate alternative enterprises.

The regional Sea Grant programs developed and recorded eight courses or workshops geared specifically to the Northeast lobster industry. MIT Sea Grant was responsible for the workshop entitled, "Changing your business model." The Sea Grant programs shared the curricula and offered the courses in-person and online. Eight hundred Massachusetts' lobstermen took 12 hours of intensive workshops and 793 of these wrote a short-term business plan. For the final phase, participants are assigned a business consultant who worked with them one-on-one to develop a business plan. A total of 748 participants had their long-term business plan accepted.

Identifying Offshore Space-Use Conflicts

MIT Sea Grant, the UMass Boston Urban Harbors Institute, and Industrial Economics, Inc. along with colleagues in Oregon, Washington, northern California, the Mid-Atlantic and Florida conducted a project entitled "Identification of Outer Continental Shelf Renewable Energy Space-Use Conflicts and Analysis of Potential Mitigation Measures." We interviewed individuals and held regional stakeholders' meetings to learn from current users of the ocean how energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) might affect existing uses in the Northeast and whether potential conflicts could be avoided, minimized, or mitigated. The team sought input from those who would be directly affected, such as commercial and recreational fishermen, shipping interests, passenger vessel operators, and others. Also of interest are the views of those likely to be indirectly affected by changes in the use of the OCS, such as processors, tugboat operators, and port managers.

The interviews and meetings on both the East and West Coasts of the United States were part of a project funded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) with anticipated outcomes of improving siting of offshore development to reduce conflicts with existing users. The final report is now available online at:

Keeping Maritime Traditions Alive

Every September, MIT Sea Grant participates in the Working Waterfront Festival of New Bedford. This annual event provides an opportunity for the fishing industry to demonstrate their skills, knowledge, and value to the public. Anthropologist, Madeleine Hall-Arber has long worked with fishing communities to identify ways to cope with the impacts of regulatory and environmental change. This perspective assists her in moderating panel discussions with local and guest fishing industry leaders during the festival and when she conducts interviews for an ongoing Oral History project. Other festival activities include an "open house" on working fishing vessels, a "Seafood Throwdown," and such contests as net-mending, scallop-shucking, survival suit donning, arts and crafts, games for children, educational booths, and more. Watch a short video about Hall-Arber's participation at the festival.

This page was last modified: April 18, 2018 2:33 pm


Madeleine Hall-Arber

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