Brunswick, ME (RPRN) 7/15/2009–Gulf of Maine seafood has fed people for thousands of years and still plays a critical role in providing for New Englanders. But marine systems in this corner of the Atlantic have been radically altered over the years. Now, as fisheries decline and some fishermen are forced to abandon their livelihoods, The Nature Conservancy, Island Institute and Penobscot East Resource Center are collaborating with fishermen on a novel plan to keep boats in the water and begin to restore the Gulfâ€™s bounty.
Today, the three groups announced that they have purchased two fishing permits, and will make those permits available to fishermen involved in collaborative research projects. The organizations are covering the costs of the research, including the permits, fuel, fishermenâ€™s time, and time for research supervision scientists.
â€œI think that making sure we do something to improve the condition of the Gulf of Maine is one of the most important conservation issues of the day,â€ said Michael Tetreault, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Maine. â€œThe basic solution is this: we acquire some interests in fishing permits, and make them available to fishermen doing research on more sustainable fishing practices. The cost to underwrite this work doesnâ€™t fall on the fishermen, it falls on conservation organizations.â€
â€œRight now, eastern Maine fishermen have no access to groundfish:Â we lost that when we lost the fish, over 15 years ago,â€ said Robin Alden, executive director of the Penobscot East Resource Center. â€œPenobscot East sees permit banking as the only way to restore the right to fish when these stocks recover.â€
â€œMaineâ€™s island and remote coastal economies are heavily dependent on the lobster fishery,â€ said Rob Snyder, the Island Instituteâ€™s vice president of programs. â€œPermit baking is critical to these communities because it will allow fishermen to experiment with conservation-oriented gear that will help bring diversified fishing opportunities back to our coast.â€
How permit banking works:
Now that The Nature Conservancy, Island Institute and Penobscot East Resource Center purchased groundfish permits, the access associated with those permits (days at sea and/or catch history) will be made available to local fishermen for research. The research will be used to gather data on distribution and abundance of groundfish species, and also to develop gear configurations and fishing practices that minimize bycatch and reduce impacts on sensitive marine habitats.
Eventually, the sustainable practices identified through the research will be presented to scientists, fishing communities and fisheries managers so that they may put the findings into practice themselves.
â€œThis is wonderful because finally weâ€™ll get some information to help us understand why weâ€™ve lost our fish east of Penobscot Bay â€“ a necessary first step towards what I remember – landing and selling local fish the length of the coast,â€ said Ted Ames, a fisherman and co-founder of the Penobscot East Resource Center.
Groundfish in the Gulf of Maine
Cold, nutrient-rich waters enter the Gulf through a narrow channel and rise to the surface of the coastal shelf, creating one of the worldâ€™s richest habitats for cod, haddock, flounder and other groundfish. However, over the years conditions in the Gulf have deteriorated. Now, these once-abundant stocks are among the most depleted in the nation.
â€œFishermen are tired of not seeing fish. They want to do whatever they can to bring them back,â€ said Glen Libby, president of Midcoast Fishermanâ€™s Association, one of the groups that will use the permits to conduct the research. â€œBut they need to be able to afford to bring them back.â€
Libby and other fisherman in Port Clyde have been testing other innovative ways to sustain local fisheries, like starting a community-supported fishery (CSF). â€œLocal, sustainably-caught fish has a value on the market that can earn fishermen more for the fish we catch,â€ said Libby. â€œThis research is a key step to helping us use those sustainable practices to earn a better living.â€
â€œCollaborative research has been one of the bright spots in the groundfish fishery over the past decadeâ€ said Geoff Smith, the Conservancyâ€™s marine program director in Maine. â€œHowever, the recent requirement for fishermen to use their limited days at sea to do the research has had a chilling effect on the program.Â We purchased these permits so we can work directly with fishermen on research projects that will ultimately improve gear selectivity and reduce impacts on sensitive marine habitats.â€
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people.Â To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 15 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 102 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
Penobscot East Resource Center is a community-based organization whose mission is to secure a future for the fishing communities of eastern Maine.Â It operates in communities from the Penobscot Bay islands to Canada, an area with more than 50 communities and over 2000 fishermen.Â The organization sponsors community science, provides leadership training, and advocacy for the restoration of the diversity of the marine ecosystem and the fishing economy of the area.Â www.penobscoteast.org