Paper Fish and Policy Conflict: Catch Shares and Ecosystem-Based Management in Maine’s Groundfishery
Jennifer F Brewer, East Carolina University
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration professes support for ecosystem-based fisheries management, as mandated by Congress in the Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and as endorsed by the Obama Administration’s national ocean policy. Nonetheless, driving agency policies, including catch shares and fishing quotas, focus principally on individual species, diverting attention from ecosystem considerations such as habitat, migratory patterns, trophic relationships, fishing gear, and firm-level decision making. Environmental non-governmental organization (ENGO) agendas manifest similar inconsistencies. A case study of Maine’s groundfishery demonstrates implications of this policy conflict at the local level. There, multigenerational fishing villages have historically pursued diversified and adaptive livelihood strategies, supported by local ecological knowledge. This tradition is increasingly eroded by regulatory constraints, including catch shares. Field observation, interviews, survey data, and archival review reveal that industry-supported, ecosystem-focused proposals have been rejected by the New England Fishery Management Council, despite the apparent failure of single-species approaches to sustain fish populations, fished ecosystems, and fishing-dependent communities. The creation of groundfishery catch share sectors is likely to perpetuate industry consolidation and political entrenchment under more mobile capital, following precedent set by days-at-sea, and making area protections and gear restrictions less likely. Pending marine spatial planning efforts could enhance social–ecological resilience by creating new opportunities for transdisciplinary decision support, and broader public participation and accountability.
catch shares; ecosystem-based management; fisheries; Fishery Management Council; groundfish; ITQs; Maine; New England; NOAA; quotas
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