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Restoring New England’s Groundfish

“The Conservancy has a decades-long track record of working with people and the environment to build for the future."
- Paul Parker, Cape Cod Fisheries Trust

While people are quite aware of the change as we travel from state to state, the same is not true for the creatures that swim, fly or walk where they please. Over the years, The Nature Conservancy’s work has expanded in recognition of the fact that nature knows no boundaries.

For example, the Gulf of Maine is one unified ecosystem, spanning three states and reaching to Canada. Our marine team is collaborating among states to approach restoration of the Gulf at a regional scale.

Your support helps us restore Maine's fisheries
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This year, The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts entered into a partnership with the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association (CCCHFA), a Chatham-based organization that, like the Conservancy, recognizes that fishing responsibly provides the best future for our oceans and our coastal communities. Building off the lessons learned through the Conservancy’s fisheries pilot project in Maine, our organizations will demonstrate how changes in fishing practices and gear can impact the overall sustainability of the fishery. We will include fishermen in research that leads to improved assessment of fish populations.

“The Cape Cod fishermen have demonstrated a commitment to responsible ocean stewardship,” says Chris McGuire, marine conservation director in Massachusetts. “We’re working together to find the solutions that will make it possible for fishermen to keep fishing and consumers to buy sustainably caught fish for generations to come.”

This fall, we’ve launched the new partnership’s first project, a collaborative effort with fishermen to tag and release halibut, a large and long-lived flatfish, in hopes of better understanding the health of the halibut population.

When the fish are re-caught, we can calculate how fast they grow and where in the Gulf of Maine they are found.

Halibut was a significant fishery in New England in the 1800s, but the population collapsed by 1940s. The idea for this tagging research project came directly from the fishermen when the Conservancy encouraged them to innovate.

“Together, we may be able to learn whether this species is beginning to make a comeback,” McGuire says.

Paul Parker, who leads the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust, an arm of the CCCHFA focused on protecting fishing access, is optimistic about the partnership. “The Conservancy has a decades-long track record of working with people and the environment to build for the future,” Parker says. “That’s why Cape Cod fishermen and the Trust value the opportunity to work with them.”

New Gear May Bring Renewed Hope

In the Gulf of Maine, we’re also working with fishermen to test hook-and-line gear (called a jigging machine) that could ultimately help commercial fishermen, while also protecting groundfish stocks and their habitats.

“We are looking to see if this gear can better target healthier stocks of fish, including pollock and redfish,” says Geoffrey Smith, marine conservation director in Maine. “So, fishermen can deliver a higher quality fish to the market and get a better price, while also reducing impacts on sensitive marine habitats.”

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