Solutions and Innovations

Fisheries and Fishermen: Part of the Ocean Plan Puzzle

Two fishing vessels dot the horizon on the Firth of Clyde. Image via Wikimedia Commons

On this World Oceans Day, let’s take a step back from the day-to-day workings of fisheries management to view New England’s ocean on a larger scale. Our region’s fish species, and the fishermen that rely on them, are part of a very busy, ever-changing environment, and although fishery managers only have authority over fishery resources, this idea is an important one to remember.

The Nation’s First Regional Ocean Plan

On May 25, after almost four years in the making, the Northeast Regional Planning Body (RPB) released the Draft Northeast Regional Ocean Plan – the first in the nation.

The Plan is intended to facilitate planning across all marine sectors and resources, and New England fishermen play an important role. Not only is fishing a historical and cultural tradition in New England, the industry also contributes greatly to our region’s economy. In 2012, revenue from New England commercial fishing landings was valued at $1.2 billion, according to data from the draft plan.

A 60-day comment period for the plan is currently underway, which includes nine in-person public meetings around New England; ocean stakeholders, fishermen included, are encouraged to attend these meetings to provide input on the plan.

Where do fishermen fit in the Plan?

During the rollout webinar, Mark Alexander, the New England Fishery Management Council representative on the RPB, detailed how the Regional Ocean Plan is relevant to New England’s fishermen and fisheries. He said the products produced by the plan – in particular the Northeast Ocean Data Portal – will help inform fishery management plans. Specifically, the wealth of data included in the plan will help fishery management councils address the implications of climate change and work towards more adaptive management practices that consider the fish, the environment, and other external influences (ecosystem-based fisheries management).

Mr. Alexander stated that the plan elevates the Council’s interest in conflicts between existing uses. This statement truly gets to the core significance of the Plan. On New England’s ocean, not only are there commercial fishermen to consider, but also recreational fishermen, transportation, aquaculture, offshore energy development, and of course, marine wildlife and habitat. The regional ocean plan will help fishermen and fishery managers, as well as all of these other stakeholders, better understand how their piece fits into the larger ocean puzzle.

Additionally, Mr. Alexander noted the importance of updating the plan, particularly the Northeast Ocean Data Portal where you can find user-friendly data previously lacking for fisheries. The portal includes, all in one location, spatial data for commercial groundfish vessel activity, maps of management areas and essential fish habitat areas for important New England fisheries, as well as the biomass of individual species. Staff are also working to expand on this information, for example, by creating total biomass and species richness maps of managed species.

It’s important to understand that the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan will not create any new regulatory authorities, and it will not take away existing authority. Fisheries management, such as the authority to make new closed areas, will remain the responsibility of the regional fishery management councils.

A recent op-ed in the Marlin by Rip Cunningham, a former council chair, summarizes it best: “A lot of folks in the fishing industries, both recreational and commercial, thought this planning effort was simply a disguised plan by the environmental community to set up no-fishing zones. The reality is that the effort was, and is, about doing the best job possible of coordinating all of the previously independent ocean-development regulations. It will also give concerned citizens a way to make sure they are recognized in the development process.”

The release of the Draft Northeast Regional Ocean Plan is a milestone for New England, and given our strong coastal heritage, everyone has a role to play. Public meetings are taking place across the region throughout the month of June. You can find the full schedule here.


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