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Implementing the Western Gulf of Maine Area Closure: The Role and Perception of Fishers’ Ecological Knowledge

Mateja Nenadovic, Duke University, USA; University of Maine, USA
Teresa Johnson, University of Maine, USA
James Wilson, University of Maine, USA


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The debate about the quality of fishers’ ecological knowledge (FEK) and its value to fisheries management has long been present in the literature. This study sought to understand the role of FEK in a particular fisheries management decision in the U.S. and to evaluate the extent that different stakeholder groups recognized and used FEK in fisheries policy creation. The 1998 implementation of the Western Gulf of Maine Area Closure (WGoMAC) was a management response to the rapid decline in the Gulf of Maine cod (Gadus morhua) stock. Using structured surveys and semistructured interviews, we collected information from major stakeholder groups that were active during the creation of the area closure: New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) members, Groundfish Advisory Panel members, Groundfish Plan Development Team members, and Maine groundfishers. Results indicated that 95% of respondents believed that fishers possess ecological knowledge that could be useful in the fishery management process. In the case of the WGoMAC creation, 62% of respondents indicated that FEK played a role in the decision, even though 85% recognized obstacles to the use of FEK in the management process. Interviews demonstrated that FEK was able to improve upon the spatial resolution of scientific data by identifying seasonal migration patterns of prespawning cod and behavioral differences between juvenile and adult cod. This information was a product of a peer-reviewed process among groundfishers and it was used to fine-tune the exact location of the closure. These findings suggest that there are ways to incorporate FEK into fishery management for the purposes of stock and habitat conservation. Additionally, the benefit of having ecological information that spans different spatial scales for fishery management was observed in this study. By combining the knowledge systems of fishers and fisheries scientists, managers were able to capture ecological information at a finer scale than the scale at which landings data are reported and fish stocks analyzed.

Key words

area closure; fisheries management; fishers’ ecological knowledge; Gulf of Maine; issues of scale; Marine Protected Area (MPA); New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC); social-ecological systems; spatial scale

Copyright © 2012 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087