Project Report:
FISHTANK: Designing A New Model for Groundfish Management
- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


FishTank is an effort to bring together the New England’s ground fishing community to develop a common understanding of alternative management strategies (including the use of market incentives) and collectively articulate one or more preferred options to the New England Fisheries Management Council for consideration as the Council develops a new management plan for the region. This is a stakeholder-driven initiative that grows out of a monthly discussion forum hosted by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute over the past year.


FishTank originated in October 2005 as a monthly meeting held at GMRI’s laboratory in Portland. Over 60 individuals (from Rhode Island to Stonington, Maine) have been involved in discussions ranging from gear conflicts to reauthorization of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act. Over 75% of participants are directly involved in fishing, including groundfishermen, lobstermen, shrimpers and scallopers. Other participants have included the Executive Director of NEFMC; Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, staff for Maine’s Congressional representatives, and fishery scientists. Out of the regulatory spotlight, participants talk openly about what they see as the flaws of the current management system, and what they see as potential models for sustainable fishery management.

In response to current management priorities at the federal level, GMRI has been actively facilitating the development of management alternatives to the days-at-sea structure under the FishTank framework. On September 27, 2006 the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) voted to proceed with the development of an Amendment to the Northeast Multi-species Fishery Management Plan. As part of this two-year process, NEFMC will consider alternatives to the current “days-at-sea” system. This Amendment will define the institutional mechanisms and regulatory terms for New England's groundfishing fleet for the next decade.

A broad cross-section of the groundfishing community stretching from New Bedford, MA to Stonington, ME has recognized FishTank as a valuable industry forum for discussing and debating subtantial reforms in groundfish management. GMRI has been asked provide the framework for constructive dialogue that moves beyond criticism of existing ineffective management strategies to the hard work of sorting through which new management approaches community are likely to produce sustainable economic and ecological results.

The groundfish dialogue is an effort to bring together the New England groundfishing community. It is a forum for vetting ideas, refining options and educating each other about the intended and unintended consequences of management alternatives. Fostering a common understanding of alternative management strategies (including the use of market incentives) and providing opportunities for technical development of those strategies are crucial steps as the New England Fishery Management Council develops a new management plan for the region.

To support the innovative management measures being proposed by various industry groups, GMRI is regularly hosting facilitated meetings, providing ecological and economic advice to assist fishermen in analyzing the implications of fishery management options, and providing technical support as these measures continue to be developed.

In November 2006, a diverse group of fishermen gathered at an immersive two-day workshop to continue the dialogue and broaden input among stakeholders in the region. The group represented an array of home ports and gear types, fishermen’s organizations in Maine and Massachusetts, an environmental organization and current and former New England Fisheries Management Council members. Removed from the politically charged regulatory environment, the group developed a consensus statement (see link) and identified areas of concern with alternative management strategies for further investigation.

In April 2007, GMRI sponsored a two-day technical workshop, convening the multispecies plan development team and the proponents of area management and the “points system,” two alternative measures being considered in the Amendment process. Several members of the NEFMC and Groundfish Committee also attended, providing additional expertise and context. This unique forum served as an opportunity for focused discussion on each plan, identification of issues, and clear guidance for future proposal development. The final report from this meeting is now available (see link).

On May 16, a second workshop was held to allow participants who developed the Days at Sea (DAS) Performance Plan and those who suggested modifications to the existing DAS system the opportunity to further refine their ideas in a collaborative effort with the PDT. This effort was not requested by the Council, and it served no official role in the Council’s consideration process. Rather, it was a way to provide an opportunity for ideas to be discussed openly and collaboratively. Twenty-four invited stakeholders, ranging geographically from Rhode Island to Downeast Maine, participated in the workshop. The report (see link) provides an overview of the discussions that developed and the key recommendations that emerged to advance the ideas presented.

In June, the Council substantially reduced the number of alternative management options they would consider under Amendment 16. Anticipating this potential outcome, GMRI worked with groundfish fishermen to submit proposals and environmental assessments needed to indicate their interest in forming a sector for May 2008. GMRI convened and facilitated two workshops (held in July and October) with groundfish associations who had submitted sector proposals to address questions about sector formation and operation (see links).

FishTank provides a constructive alternative to the top-down and highly-politicized approach that has historically characterized the development of new federal fishery management plans by building consensus among previously marginalized stakeholders and facilitating industry input early in the Amendment process. Specific outcomes will include:

1) Increased dialogue and collaboration among New England's commercial fishing community that leads to a common understanding of alternative (and market-based) approaches to managing New England fisheries.

2) Sustainable and viable management options that address community needs, are supported by diverse groups of fishery stakeholders and are brought before NEFMC for consideration in the Amendment process.

In July of 2007, GMRI facilitated a meeting of sector proponents to develop conceptual agreement on recommendations to the New England Fishery Management Council regarding how catch should be allocated among sectors and how sectors should be monitored and managed (see attached report). The product of the workshop was agreed to by four of the largest industry associations in the region.

Another meeting was held in October to focus on the monitoring and reporting objectives for sectors, as well as to generate ideas on design and implementation of a monitoring and reporting system to meet those objectives. Two industry associations and the two existing sectors agreed to the product of this meeting (see attached report).

GMRI continues to support sector development and implementation, building on the FishTank model.


FishTank will enable fishermen work together to proactively investigate the causes of economic imbalances created under New England's current days-at-sea managment system (e.g., preventing access to healthy fish stocks and lack of incentives to reduce bycatch) and to explore potential economic/ecological impacts of a variety of alternative management strategies including market-based solutions. Often the adoption of market-based solutions in fisheries are constrained by existing regulations & slow moving federal processes; however, a recent decision by the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) to develop an Amendment to the Multispecies Fisheries Fishery Management Plan presents a unique opportunity to catalyze change in a relatively short timeframe.


Fish Tank is a pilot project in that the scope is regional (New England) with a focus on groundfish, but it has enormous potential to serve as a model for other regions and fisheries - both through its approach to convening stakeholders and ultimately through the implementation of new management approaches in a highly visible fishery.

Information Dissemination

FishTank has grown into a multi-year initiative. As management proposals are further developed by industry participants, GMRI will continue to host meetings across the region, facilitating and supporting the development of innovative management measures.

Attached are the consensus statement from the November 2006 meeting, the Final Reports from the Amendment 16 Technical Workshops, and the reports from the sector development workshops. Other reports will be made available via this website as the project continues. It is also our intent to publish a written and electronic report/publication documenting the process used in FishTank and the outcomes. We will update our Walker Foundation report with a link to that publication upon completion.

Amount Approved
$15,000.00 on 11/7/2006 (Check sent: 11/29/2006)

An evening discussion on groundfish.  Photo courtesy of GMRI.

Fishing vessels in Portland Harbor.  Photo courtesy of GMRI.

Final Report: Amendment 16 Technical Workshops Appendix (PDF)
November 2006 Consensus Statement (PDF)
An evening discussion on groundfish. Photo courtesy of GMRI.
Fishing vessels in Portland Harbor. Photo courtesy of GMRI.
Fishing vessels in Portland harbor. Photo courtesy of GMRI.
Days-At-Sea Technical Workshop Report (PDF)
Sector Monitoring Meeting Report (October 2007) (PDF)

350 Commericial Street
Portland, ME 04101

(207) 772-2321
(207) 772-6855 (fax)


Donald Perkins
President, Gulf of Maine Research Institu
Jill G. Harlow
Advancement Strategist, Gulf of Maine Research Institute
Mr. Jonathan Labaree
GMRI Sector Initiative Program Manager
Steve Eayrs
Scientist, Fish Behavior & Gear Technology

Posted 9/21/2006 9:37 AM
Updated   11/5/2009 9:46 AM

  • Nonprofit

Fishing vessels in Portland harbor.  Photo courtesy of GMRI.

© 2024 Alex C. Walker Foundation