Groundfish Restoration Program

In a region where fishermen are precariously dependent on just one species, lobster, restoration of species such as cod, haddock and flounder offers eastern Maine a big opportunity: additional jobs, value added processing, and a diversified fishery consistent with Maine’s lobster fleet. MCCFs interlocked groundfish restoration programs are a strategic and long term effort to rebuild, monitor, manage, and use groundfish and, most basically, to regain fishing access rights so that coastal fishermen and their communities benefit from the rebuilt groundfish.

Since the 1990s, groundfish have been collapsed in the region from Penobscot Bay to the Canadian border. Many people don’t realize there has been no commercial groundfishing in the eastern one third of the Gulf of Maine since then. The ecology and the economy of the area are dominated by lobsters. Now, though, there are signs that the fish are rebuilding.

Collaborative research: All of MCCF’s groundfish research is based on fishermen’s knowledge and collaboration. (1) Lifelong fisherman and founding Board member Ted Ames used his fishing knowledge and scientific to publish his 2004 paper that established cod’s local stock structure in the Gulf of Maine. (2) The Sentinel Survey, now producing abundance indices for local stocks of species such as cod and halibut, is done by fishermen with University of Maine observers. It was originally launched to provide scientific documentation of the loss of groundfish in eastern Maine – something known by fishermen but not evident from federal and state surveys. (3) MCCF’s groundfish BACI (Before-After-Control-Impact) project samples fish on historic feeding sites in Penobscot Bay, examining the effect of increasing populations of alewives on inshore groundfish. (4) Social science research has both documented the impact of the loss of groundfish to Downeast communities and provided information about the policy and infrastructure needs for restarting the fishery.

Access rights: Currently, virtually no eastern Maine fishermen have the necessary federal permits to fish for groundfish. This situation needs to change if groundfish restoration is to benefit and diversify the area’s coastal economy. MCCF’s approach to this is multi-faceted.

Permit Bank: Federal permits can only be obtained by purchasing them from other fishermen. Each permit holds a given amount of quota – shares of the total quota for each species that year. MCCF has purchased two permits in order to start to provide quota for lease to fishermen who have federal permits.

Policy Innovation and Advocacy:  The permit bank cannot provide enough local access to make it possible for a rebuilt local groundfish fishery to contribute to diversification for current lobster fishermen. If groundfish rebounds to historic levels, it would be unthinkable that coastal fishermen would not be allowed to fish for them. MCCF is developing options for coastal access that could be achievable within the federal catch share system.

River Restoration: MCCF, with other organizations launched an ambitious partnership, Downeast Fisheries Partnership. The organizations participating link river restoration to marine restoration, and provide a broad political base for the mission of fishing forever.