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October 15, 2003

SUMMARY of MFP Community Panels Project Amendment 13 Comments

On October 15, 2003, the Massachusetts Fishermenís Partnership (MFP) submitted comments to the New England Fishery Management Council on Amendment 13 to the Multispecies Fisheries Management Plan. The public comments provide a preliminary report on the social and economic information being collected by MFPís regional effort, the Community Panels Project.

The Panels Project, funded by the Northeast Consortium and Saltonstall-Kennedy grants, is focusing on 6 communities: Beals Island/Jonesport and Portland, Maine; Gloucester, Scituate and New Bedford, Massachusetts; and Point Judith, Rhode Island. MIT Sea Grant College Programís anthropologist, Dr. Madeleine Hall-Arber, is the project leader with Dr. Bonnie McCay of Rutgers University and David Bergeron of the MFP, as co-principal investigators. The six communities in the study represent the variety of characteristics found in New Englandís fishing industry including inshore/offshore, large/small vessels; urban/rural communities; fish/shellfish products; mobile/fixed gear; auction/entrepreneur-dealer, etc.

Cumulative Impacts of Past Regulations

The report finds that the cumulative impacts of prior groundfish regulations have had much greater impact than previously acknowledged. These impacts include a drastically reduced participation in the fishery, leading to negative effects on families, crews, fleet profiles, and planning. In addition, the reductions have increased the vulnerability of infrastructure in some communities. Flexibility has been another casualty of the series of regulations.

Infrastructure Vulnerability

The survival of fishing industry infrastructure is a major concern in many ports, and one that is not adequately investigated by existing documents on anticipated A13 impacts. Cuts in fishing effort will not merely cause proportional cuts in profits to shoreside businesses. Rather, they are likely to trigger large scale and cascading effects that may very well include permanent losses of working waterfront. This is partly due to the already precarious position of some shoreside businesses facing changing real estate markets and food production networks. If one or more of the critical elements comprising the fishing industry infrastructure disappears, a domino effect could cause all to fail. Furthermore, the study has underscored the importance of a diverse fleet structure in New England comprising large, medium, and smaller sized vessels that work together to provide a consistent supply of product and sustain the infrastructure.

Loss in Flexibility and Sustainability

Flexible switching strategies traditionally have allowed day boats and others to adjust their individual business plans to changing ecological and socioeconomic circumstances with relative ease. Like diversified farming practices, the ecological and economic burdens and risks formerly were distributed more widely than in the present fleet. As a result of single-species fisheries management in New England, more vessels than ever before focus on a single species or fishery. No longer can harvesters easily shift to alternative species when one fishery experiences stock declines, or normal inter-annual fluctuations. In contrast, flexibility was once the key to sustainability and a hallmark of the centuries old tradition of fishing in New England.

Further Study: Learning from the Past for the Future

The Panels Project will continue its work. Project leaders believe that ideas about ways to improve fisheries management so that both stocks and communities are sustained will emerge from the ongoing collaborative study. In the meantime, the Panels Project strongly recommends that all effort be made to retain the existing diversity in the fleet.

The full report is attached and available in pdf format.

David Bergeron, Executive Director
Massachusetts Fishermen's Partnership
2 Blackburn Center Gloucester, MA 01930
Tel. (978) 282-4847 Fax (978) 282-4798

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