Net Results in the Gulf of Maine

Fisheries research in the Gulf of Maine

Watch a video to see this collaborative research with Gulf of Maine fishermen in action.


Story Highlights
  • With your support, The Nature Conservancy is purchasing fishing permits and allowing fishermen to use those permits to find sustainable harvesting practices.
  • We've learned that relatively minor changes in fishing gear can yield positive results for both fishermen and fish.
  • The Conservancy's work with Gulf of Maine fishermen is gaining international attention as an innovative way to create sustainable fisheries and meaningful collaborations.
“Our goal is to find a solution that’s good for the Gulf, good for the fishermen, and good for coastal communities.”

~Mark Zankel, NH State Director

Peter Kendall was 16 when he started working on the commercial fishing pier in Portsmouth. Fishing helped put him through college, as the Gulf of Maine provided him, and others, with a good catch for many years. By the mid-2000s, he was the owner of two boats, and had managed the Portsmouth Fisherman’s Co-op off and on for almost a decade.

Then, in the middle of the 2009 fishing season, one of Kendall’s boats sank.

This was also the last season before a new system of regulation was put into effect. Moving forward, self-selecting groups of fishermen, called sectors, would have yearly limits, or quotas, on the amount of each species of groundfish - cod, pollock, hake, and flounder - they are allowed to catch. Individual fishermen own permits that allow them to catch a set fraction of the sector’s total quota. New Hampshire has two sectors, with a total of 54 permits. These permits can be bought, sold, and leased.

Prior experience with quota-based systems demonstrates that larger-scale operations tend to buy out smaller-scale fishermen, consolidating ownership of the fishery into the hands of a few.

According to Josh Wiersma, the New Hampshire Fisheries Sectors manager, New Hampshire’s small scale fishing operations are beginning to feel the squeeze.

Kendall, down to one boat, saw a future where he didn’t think he could compete. He told Wiersma he wanted to sell his permits and get out of the fishing business. But New Hampshire’s fishing community was “tapped out,” Wiersma says, and could not afford to buy the permits.

For Kendall, selling his permits on the open market was unthinkable. He knew every permit that left the state would mean fewer New Hampshire fishermen - fishermen he knew personally - and the weakening of an important industry and way of life that has been part of the region for centuries.

Keeping Kendall’s permits in the community would take creativity, and Wiersma knew just where to look. He approached Geoff Smith, the Gulf of Maine marine program director at The Nature Conservancy.

Developing Sustainable Solutions

Wiersma knew that in 2009, the Conservancy created an innovative program in Midcoast Maine. With a focus on finding solutions to benefit both fisheries and local communities and ensuring a sustainable harvest, the Conservancy purchased permits from local fishermen and started a “Community Permit Bank.” The Conservancy began leasing these permits to local fishermen at favorable rates. Priority went to fishermen who partner with scientists to conduct research and test new sustainable practices and equipment out on the water. The goal is for fishermen to use sustainable practices in their day-to-day fishing operations.

“If we’re going to ask fishermen to try new gear and fishing techniques,” Smith says, “we should put our money where our mouth is, and help offset some of the risk and cost associated with doing so. Instead of
the old push-pull between fishermen and conservationists, this program encourages the two groups to work
together to find ways to make fishing more sustainable - for the fishermen and Gulf of Maine.”

Incentives are not the only benefit of the partnership. By maintaining “permit banks,” the Conservancy is able to act as a buffer against consolidation, protecting New Hampshire’s local fishing operations and traditions - and the value they bring to the region.

Ensuring Fish for the Future
Wiersma and Smith discussed applying the permit bank concept tested in Maine to New Hampshire’s fisheries, then met with Kendall and the larger fishing community to discuss the idea.

Admittedly, Kendall was doubtful at first, but “when you start to dig into it,” he says, “you see what they
did in Maine with the permits, and what they wanted to do in New Hampshire. If it can help somebody here stay in it -keep the infrastructure, keep the docks and piers - then that’s what I want to see.”

Kendall sold his permits to The Nature Conservancy this spring. Local fishermen will soon be using them, along with more sustainable equipment and practices.

The New Hampshire permit bank includes an innovative new element to further support the industry. In 5 years, the sectors representing New Hampshire fishing communities can buy back the permits for the same price the Conservancy paid Kendall to acquire them. If fish populations rebound as hoped, the permits will be more valuable – a great advantage for a new fisherman in the industry, ensuring our local fishing tradition continues.

“Working toward a healthier ecosystem, ensuring access to locally-caught seafood, and preserving the area’s rich fishing heritage - that’s what the permit bank program is all about,” says Mark Zankel, state director of the Conservancy in New Hampshire.

“Permit banking is a strategy that helps us think about how the Conservancy can help change the course of fisheries management in the Gulf of Maine for the better,” explained Zankel. “Our goal is to find a solution that’s good for the Gulf, good for the fishermen, and good for coastal communities.”

Kendall says he ultimately agreed to sell his permits to The Nature Conservancy because we understand the difficulties his community faces. “The Conservancy is willing to work with the fishermen, and to
help the fishermen out,” he says. “I think more environmental groups could learn from it.”


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