Collaborative Research

What is collaborative research?

Collaborative research is when a fisherman or a group of fishermen work with a scientist to examine an issue that will improve the knowledge base or regulation of the ocean fisheries. The idea can be generated by either the fishing or the scientific community and will seek to sustain both the fisheries and the fishing way-of-life.

Over the years, the MFP has been a leader in developing and executing collaborative research projects; working closely with: Harvard University, NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, University of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, University of Massachusetts, MA Division of Marine Fisheries, and commercial fishermen of all gear types throughout New England.

What kinds of projects are suitable for collaborative research?

  • Selective gear research and design
  • Fishery interactions
  • Ecosystem and habitat studies
  • Commercial harvest and species sampling
  • Oceanographic measurement and system studies
  • By-catch and discard issues
  • Public outreach and education
  • Socioeconomic impacts

This is NOT a complete list. Any idea you have is worth following up on.

Some examples of past projects include:

1) An Examination of Biological Processes of Sand Lance and Associative Species on Stellwagen Bank 

Working with researchers from Boston University and the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, the biological processes of sand lance on and around Stellwagen Bank was studied in an effort to understand its role as a possible keystone species in this marine environment. Sand lance are a significant link between the benthic and pelagic habitats of the Gulf of Maine ecosystem and offer a key to understanding large-scale biomass movements.

This knowledge is important since many varied species such as cod, tuna, skates, whales, seals, and seabirds depend on sand lance as an important food source and their study is likely to reveal significant ecosystem patterns and relationships. This project outcomes led to new empirical knowledge about two species of Gulf of Maine sand lance and formed the basis for a predictive model of fluctuations in sand lance distribution and abundance. This project was funded by the Northeast Consortium.

Project partners:
Dr. Les Kaufman, Boston University
Clifford Goudey, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Captain Bill Lee, F/V Ocean Reporter
Captain Phil Michaud, F/V Susan C III
Olivia Free, Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, Inc.

2) A Community-Based Nutrient Water Quality Monitoring Project to Support Habitat Protection in Nantucket Sound

Funded by the National Marine Fisheries Service, this project established a system-wide volunteer water sampling program to provide baseline information about the water quality in Nantucket Sound in order to examine the potential link between impaired waters discharging from coastal embayments and the impact on the habitat quality of the Sound.

Within Nantucket Sound, surface and bottom samples of dissolved oxygen, temperature, and salinity/specific conductivity were collected at 16 sites by teams of volunteers that include commercial fishermen and fishing families. Marine water samples were analyzed for concentrations of nitrate, ammonium, ortho-phosphate, particulate carbon, particulate nitrogen, dissolved organic nitrogen, chlorophyll a & pheophytin a and specific conductance. Nitrogen related water quality decline represents one of the most serious threats to the ecological health of the near shore coastal waters that impacts both benthic and pelagic habitats, and therefore the health of our local fisheries.

3) Pilot Project to Design and Test a Low-Impact Scallop Dredge

This study used a novel approach to scallop harvest to exploit hydrodynamic flow to elevate scallops and reduce contact between the gear and the seabed. Tests in the MIT ocean engineering tow tank evaluated a wide range of shapes to see how well they lifted scallop models off of the bottom. Low-aspect-ratio shapes (downward-facing cups) produced the greatest effect. A seven-foot wide wheeled prototype dredge was designed using the cup shapes and no cutting bar. It was built and tested onboard the F/V Pretty Girl, a commercial scallop vessel.

Underwater video was used to record the response of scallops and other benthic organisms to the passage of the dredge. The in-situ video showed a downward jet of water and large-scale vorticity generated by the cups. The dredge deployed easily, seemed to tow easier, and resulted in a 30% to 50% catch rate compared to that of a properly tuned conventional dredge. The next steps include rigorous fishing trials to determine catch and bycatch rates, habitat impact comparisons, research to reduce impact of the chain bag, and dredge scale-up for testing onboard offshore commercial fishing vessels. This project was funded by the Northeast Consortium.

4) Pilot Project to Test the Use of Side-scan Sonar to Identify Seafloor Features Associated with Pre-spawning and Spawning Cod Aggregations

With funding by the Northeast Consortium, this project ground-truthed existing USGS charts in areas associated with pre-spawning and spawning cod by deploying acoustic equipment from the F/V Venture to describe the benthic habitat. This study focused on determining if habitat characteristics were correlated to the site fidelity of cod. Using USGS multibeam datasets from the area and empirical information offered by commercial fishermen, sites with very similar habitats as measured by aspect, depth, and backscatter value but with contrasting cod site fidelity were identified. At these sites, correlations between cod presence and absence and seafloor characteristics (grain size, organic carbon content, and macrofauna) were analyzed using grab samples and still photos collected aboard the F/V Venture. Cod were found at sites with significantly different habitats across the Cod Conservation Zone in Massachusetts Bay, but no seafloor features measured could be correlated to the presence or absence of cod.

How the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership can help with your cooperative project ideas:

  • Discussing and developing proposal ideas
  • Writing planning letters
  • Finding research partners (fishermen, vessels, or scientists)
  • Managing/writing grants-related paperwork and administration
  • Coordinating project implementation tasks
  • Troubleshooting potential project set-backs

For more information, please contact Angela Sanfilippo at  978-282-4847  or email