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NOAA Grant Funds New Socioeconomic Study of Downeast Fishing Communities

September 15, 2010


September 14th, 2010


Contact: Teresa Johnson, (207) 581-4362

ORONO — A University of Maine School of Marine Sciences researcher has received a $178,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for a two-year study on how new fishing regulations in New England affect fishing communities socioeconomically.

The research will inform how future fishing policies in New England can be designed to protect those communities.

NOAA included $18.6 million in its 2010 fiscal year budget proposal, in addition to $16 million provided in 2009, to help New England’s groundfish industry implement a “catch share” program to reallocate fishing catch limits and try to reverse an 80-percent decline in fish stocks over the last 15 years. Primary among concerns is gathering input from those who make their living on the sea or in the industry, according to Teresa Johnson, the project’s principal investigator and member of the marine sciences faculty.

The study, which begins in October, is being undertaken with colleagues at the University of Maine at Machias, the College of the Atlantic, and the Penobscot East Resource Center, in addition to UMaine graduate and undergraduate students. It involves surveys, recorded oral history interviews, focus groups and an assessment of economic and socioeconomic data to define the needs, requirements and capacity of Eastern Maine fishing communities to survive as federal fisheries managers design various catch share policies. Such policies are certain to affect fisheries and fishing families.

The project addresses the shift towards catch shares in New England and asks “how they might aid in not only rebuilding traditional groundfish stocks, but also in the preservation of small-scale, fishery-dependent communities,” Johnson says in a project description. “Although there is scientific evidence in support of catch shares, questions remain about how to effectively design such programs.”

Local fishermen and other community members will serve as researchers and aid in distributing the results of the project to members of these fishing communities, says Johnson, whose research focuses on the human dimensions of marine fisheries, particularly the science and management processes in the Northeast.

Many stakeholders are concerned that further regulation or the allocation of fishing sectors to specific groups of individuals could result in consolidation of fishing rights by a few, often corporate, fishing entities, Johnson says.

“…We feel it is critical to assess the degree to which small-scale, fishery-dependent communities can participate successfully in a catch share program, and what conditions and resources are needed to facilitate success,” she says. “We will produce currently unavailable data on the communities in this region.”

The data will be summarized into community profiles, according to Johnson. An estimated 30 oral histories produced as part of the research will be made available to the public through NOAA’s Voices of the Fisheries Project and the University of Maine’s Maine Folklore Center.

Project findings also will provide insight into broader design questions likely to arise as other fishery-dependent communities shift toward catch shares, Johnson says. The project will include collaboration with Maine Sea Grant, the Cobscook Bay Resource Center and other interested public and private organizations.

“These data will be critical for assessing the social and economic impacts of future fishery regulations and management plans on the fishing communities in Eastern Maine,” Johnson says.

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