[STONINGTON, ME, April 24, 2019] – The Northeast Coastal Communities Sector (NCCS) announced today that the Sector will be withdrawing its operations plan for the 2019 fishing year. NCCS is one of 17 Sectors currently operating in the groundfish catch share program in New England. It is managed by its fiscal sponsor, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries (MCCF) headquartered in Stonington, ME. The Sector is currently comprised of 28 members who each hold federal northeast multispecies permits for catching groundfish in the Gulf of Maine and George’s Bank. These 28 permits will be redistributed to other Maine-based Sectors for the 2019 fishing season, or they will enter the Common Pool.
NCCS was founded in 2010 amidst rapidly declining access for small-boat groundfish operators. Founding 12 members from Martha’s Vineyard to Jonesport joined with Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries to form NCCS with the intent to preserve a space for owner-operator and hook-gear fishing to occur within the new federal sector management approach. NCCS has been minimally active since it was formed, reaching its highest number of active members in 2012 with just five vessels pursuing groundfish, and its highest landings were just this past year with 190,000 lbs as of April, 2019. NCCS attributes its low number of active members and relatively low landings to the type of conservation-minded small-scale fishing businesses operating vessels under 50 feet in length. The evolution of regulations over the last 8 years, in spite of the sustainability measures many small-scale fishermen have advocated for, has made it impossible for these types of traditional small businesses to survive in the fishery. Since the establishment of catch shares in New England, the size of the fleet has constricted from nearly 1,000 active vessels in the fishery prior to 2010, to less than 100 today.
For the past two years, NCCS has worked with a group of young, ambitious fishermen on a strategy to increase profits for small vessels. Partnering up with Capt. Tim Rider of New England Fishmongers, the Sector enabled fishing opportunity for direct to consumer sales, helping the company expand local markets and educating consumers to offset the regulatory costs associated with the catch share program. Despite a rapid expansion in Rider’s business and wild success on the market end, there are considerable challenges presented by the high cost of leasing quota and various reporting mechanisms. All the while, the Sector relied on soft money to get the job done. “We’d need about 15-20 Tim Riders in order to stand this thing up on its feet, and under the current regulatory climate, I don’t see that happening in the near future,” said the Sector’s manager, Pat Shepard who is an employee of MCCF. “We simply don’t have enough active fishermen right now to justify running an active Sector.” The Sector’s board will continue to monitor the fishery and reopen the Sector when there is enough interest in the future to do so.
Although the Sector may be put on hold, other efforts at Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries are just heating up. MCCF’s Executive Director, Paul Anderson added “Our recently christened Eastern Maine Coastal Current Collaborative (EM3C) will bring together our partners at the Maine Department of Marine Resources as well as staff at NOAA to develop the scientific support for ecosystem-based management of our fisheries.” MCCF will hold a “State of the Science” conference in June to kick off the initiative. For more information visit the MCCF website, www.coastalfisheries.org.