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Working to Restore 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

New England’s historic fishing communities are in trouble, but The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts is working alongside local fishermen to save them by rebuilding healthy populations of groundfish throughout the Gulf of Maine.

During the summer of 2015, the Conservancy purchased its first fishing permits in Massachusetts, with six permits based in Chatham and one on Martha’s Vineyard, as an important first step in our longterm effort to restore fish populations to at least 75% percent of historic levels.

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“Local fishermen have been caring for this resource for decades, now 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,” says Chris McGuire, marine conservation director in Massachusetts.

Permits give fishermen the right to catch a certain amount of a species of fish. By acquiring this quota, then leasing it back to local fishing partners at affordable rate, The Nature Conservancy is able to both help local businesses survive and to support sustainable fishing practices.

For several years The Nature Conservancy has partnered with the Cape Cod Commercial Fisherman’s Alliance, of Chatham. Now, we’re also working with the Menemsha-based Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust. Like the Conservancy, these community groups recognize that fishing responsibly provides the best future for our oceans and our coastal communities. And over time, the Conservancy plans to transfer permit ownership to our community partners, ensuring local stewardship of the fishery.

Paul Parker, who leads the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust, a program of the Cape Cod Commercial Fisherman’s Alliance focused on protecting fishing access, is optimistic about the collaboration with the Conservancy; “The Conservancy has a decades-long track record of working with people and the environment to build for the future,” he says.

Many Massachusetts fishermen catch groundfish – a category that includes such well-known species as cod, haddock and flounder. In recent years, the quotas for some groundfish have been dramatically reduced because of declining fish populations. With these reductions, many fishermen have been unable to sustain their businesses and have made the tough decision to sell their permits.

To help reverse this trend, a principal goal of these new partnerships is to keep these valuable permits in traditional fishing communities in order to ensure their long-term access to the fishery and help sustain the local fishing industry.

“The Vineyard’s small-scale, local fishing community is shrinking. As larger corporations purchase access to the fisheries that surround the island, local fishermen suffer,” said Wes Brighton, a Vineyard fisherman and member of the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust Board of Trustees.

“Without permits, we’re not able to secure a source of fresh, locally caught seafood for the community. It is essential that we help our fishermen secure access to our historic fishing grounds.”

New England fishermen and Conservancy scientists have already collaborated to track cod spawning behavior, tag halibut, test new net designs, and pilot electronic monitoring through projects in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. And a similar effort in California is bringing together fishermen and conservationists.

Now, with these new permits and partnerships in place, the Conservancy can pursue additional collaborative research projects with local fishermen here in Massachusetts.

“The Nature Conservancy’s commitment and experience in helping local fishing communities throughout the country and their focus on sustainable fishing practices makes them an ideal partner,” said John Keene, president, Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust.

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