Session Topic

February 14- Staking Claims to Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine groundfish stocks

Click here to read the themes raised by the panel discussion on February 14


Peter Baker, Campaign Director, Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association
Chris Zeman, Ocean Advocate, Oceana
Roger Fleming, Environmental Advocate, Conservation Law Foundation
Craig Pendleton, Executive Director, Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance

Background lecture: Social and natural capital and the commons; trust, blame and responsibility in marine resource issues; The Magnuson-Stevens Act and the Sustainable Fisheries Act

Summary: Since the crash of the North Atlantic groundfish populations in the early and mid 1990s, stocks have slowly increased in many areas. Now fishermen in different sectors of the groundfishery are vying for access to the still-meager stocks. As federal rules change, fishermen with smaller-scale operations, often in small rural ports, must compete with fishermen in large urban ports with multi-vessel fleets. Some fishermen have accused the National Marine Fisheries Service of favoring larger operations in their rule-making. Others are calling for an overhaul of the groundfish management plans to account for new information about groundfish distribution and to allow fishermen and fishing communities more of a say in management decisions on the local level. At the same time, environmental groups say the stocks are not recovering quickly enough, a violation of federal law. They want the Fisheries Service to implement more draconian measures in order to save the stocks. In implementing the most recent changes to the groundfish plan, called Amendment 13, the courts, fishery management councils, and the Fisheries Service struggled to walk a line between the conflicting camps, angering many on all sides of the issue.


Hall-Arber, Madeleine, Dyer, C., Poggie, J, McNally, J. and Gagne, R. 2001. New England’s Fishing Communities; MIT Sea Grant College Program MITSG 01-15, 2001. Chapter 1: Introduction and Theory, pp. 1-19; also read through the reports on a couple of individual ports that are familiar to you. Auditors: for a more brief introduction to this material, read pages 9-19 (you may need to scan earlier pages to get the definitions of some acronyms). For those of you directly involved with policy debates, you will get a great deal out of reading this entire report—since it came out, I have referred to it dozens of times.

Groundfish links: Reading the pages listed below in the order in which they appear here will give you a good background and overview of the Amendment 13 process.

  • Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance: summary of their involvement in the recent groundfish lawsuit: Also glance through the related articles and topics offered in the links on the right.
  • Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association: Look through The Hook's site to get an idea of their role and philosophy:
  • Massachusetts Fishermen's Partnership hosts the Community Panels Project webpage, and the participants in the project put together this joint comment on Amendment 13 as proposed in 2003: Read at least the first section summarizing their concerns and glance through sections on ports of interest to you.

Additional resources:

NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center: A good source of general information on groundfish and internal comments and science background:

Click here to see a list of Cape Cod Times articles covering the issue, along with a link to the Cape Cod Times Archives.

Kurlansky, Mark. Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. New York: Penguin USA, 1997.

Carey, Richard A. Against the Tide: The Fate of the North Atlantic Fisherman. New York: Mariner Books, 1999, especially, Chapter 13: In Cod We Trust.

For a Canadian perspective: Harris, Michael. Lament for an Ocean. Toronto: McLelland & Stewart, Inc., 1998.

For some interesting information on relevant international issues, particularly Canada’s role, see also Porter, G., Brown, J.W., Chasek, P.S., Global Environmental Politics, 3e. “Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks.” Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2000, p. 135-141.

Teacher resources:

“Fishing for Solutions: Proposals to Solving the Global Overfishing Problem in the Classroom.” New York Times Daily Lesson Plan, March 10, 1999 by Alison Zimbalist, The New York Times Learning Network

“Rescue at Sea, Marine Conservation: A Science Lesson Plan.” (Note: Consider adapting this activity to dispel stereotypes of fishermen or whalers.) New York Times Daily Lesson Plan, September 22, 1998 by Alison Zimbalist, The New York Times Learning Network


Themes from the February 14th session on Groundfish Management

At each session, we note themes arising in the panel discussion in four categories: problem definition, goals (individual, organizational and for the process itself), sources of conflict, and potential solutions. The list is meant to aid in further discussion on the topic and is not meant to be exhaustive or definitive. The themes are recorded by a volunteer from the enrolled students and auditors. Themes noted with an asterisk (*) were added to the list by Saving Seas instructor Tora Johnson drawing upon her notes on the discussion.

The Problem

By-catch/ regulatory discards
Rules don't make sense
There’s not enough fish
Coming to terms with the problem [of depleted stocks]/ overcoming denial
Failure in management system and fisheries managers
Lack of data and delay in getting data
Solutions often not forthcoming from conservationists
Forums are not truly open to the public; the same people are always talking with each other
Need for leadership
Elected officials will not acknowledge realities

* Understanding fisheries mgt as wildlife management, prone to attendant uncertainties & part of wild systems


"Clean" fishing
Broad acknowledgement of the problem
Change in management process
Having more choice/ say in decision-making
More fish
Restored ecosystems
Change in management structure
Fishing communities and traditional fisheries
Public education, involvement, support
Open discussions/ initiating discussions
Constructive involvement of Congressional delegation

Sources of Conflict

Federal regulatory process
Attitudes of stakeholders involved in the process
Disagreements between fishermen and environmentalists
The [Magnuson] Act isn’t working
New England area is too large to manage effectively
No agreement on how to get "there"
Difficulty of coming to terms with tough decisions
Differences between different fishing sectors (small/ large, inshore/offshore, etc.)
Solutions not forthcoming from environmentalists
Some proposals never get a real hearing
No feedback mechanisms for more rapid response to problems in management
Lack of forum for open discussion and processing conflicting views

* "They" were the enemy; preconceived notions about other stakeholder groups
* Stakeholders on all sides feel like they are kept "outside" the process

Potential Solutions

Bringing in new ideas from outside the process
Learning about each other, develop personal relationships
Working together to develop solutions
Involving fishermen in decision-making
Limits firm, clear limits on catches (* Total Allowable Catch—TAC)
Having the courage to stand up, work with "them," make hard decisions, engage in the process
Community-based management (* such as sector allocation)

* Leadership
* New practices and technologies
* Fishermen seizing the environmental ethic back
* Mediation
* Better community understanding and support for the process

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