Bass Harbor Panorama
Bass Harbor, ME. Photos from site visits by Barrett Walker.
Project Report:
Safeguarding New England's Groundfish Fishery and Marine Ecosystem through Market-based Management Programs
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


Recently published research (Science, 9/18/2008) that looked at data from 11,000 fisheries worldwide from 1950 to 2003 found that fisheries that were managed through “catch share” cap-and-trade systems halted and even reversed steep population declines, while traditionally managed fisheries did not. Environmental Defense Fund, along with partner groups, seeks to replace failed “days-at-sea” regulations for New England’s declining marine fisheries with this proven market-based solution to improve their ecological and economic health and resilience. After more than 2 years of development, a plan known as Amendment 16 is almost ready; it will will give fishermen the option to continue under the current regulatory system or join a market-based sector.

Monkfish Boat
Fishing boat approaching Chatham dock loaded with catch from Georges Bank, mainly monkfish & skate. Under current regulations many fish are discarded at sea and fail to survive. ED is working with fishermen from the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Assoc. to develop additional catch shares for these species.


New England is nearing a tipping point for catch shares, not only in the groundfish and scallop fisheries where EDF is focused, but also with a number of other marine fisheries, as catch shares are increasingly recognized as the best management program.

The rising popularity of catch shares has been helped along by our augmented outreach efforts to opinion leaders in the fishing community, non-profit colleagues and elected officials. Our first fishermen’s exchange trip to British Columbia last year was especially effective, resulting in strengthened relationships with the Northeast Seafood Coalition (NSC), Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association, and the Mid-Coast Maine Fishermen’s Association. Industry members who went on the trip have since advocated both with us and independently for additional catch share proposals for monkfish and summer flounder. For example, the Commercial Fisheries News published articles by EDF, the Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association, and the Monkfish Fishermen’s Association about the field trip and the need to transition to catch shares. We and fishermen allies have also had pro-catch share editorials and op-eds in major regional papers. We are also reaching every coastal New England congressional office with “Catch Share 101” presentations, followed by specific appropriations requests for monitoring for groundfish “sectors” (catch shares managed by fishing cooperatives are called “sectors” in New England). We are currently filming testimonials of pro-catch share New England fishermen for use in outreach events and congressional advocacy.

In late January, with funding from the Walker Foundation, EDF hosted a second fishermen's exchange trip to British Columbia. We brought 12 opinion leaders from both the scallop and groundfish fisheries, including the deputy director of Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. Once again, the trip was incredibly valuable, as evidenced by quotes from participants:

Steve Arnold, RI fisherman: "I've been following how catch shares have been developing for a couple of years. Since the B.C. exchange trip it has never been more clear in my mind what needs to be done with management and industry going forward."

Dan McKiernan, Mass. DMF: "Great inside look at an up-and running successful fishery management program."

As with the last trip, following this recent exchange a couple of fishermen have expressed an interest in becoming more involved. They have offered to write op-eds for popular commercial fishing newspapers and to attend educational visits with us and members of their delegation in DC to discuss this proven approach to managing fisheries.

After more than 2 years of development, Amendment 16 to the federal groundfish management plan is almost ready. Public hearings will be held in April/May 2009, and the Council is scheduled to pick final measures in June at the NEFMC meetings (6/23-6/25) for NMFS to implement on May 1, 2010. Under Amendment 16, fishermen have the option to continue fishing under the days-at-sea management system (referred to as the “common pool”) or join a sector.


A new market-based form of fisheries management called “catch shares” makes it possible to simultaneously protect the environment, increase profits, provide consumers with higher quality fish, create more full-time jobs, and save fishermen’s lives. Catch shares provide an economic incentive for fishermen to invest in the long-term health of the fishery. New research has proven conclusively that where well-designed catch share programs are implemented, overfishing stops and fisheries recover. EDF’s ocean program is focused on overcoming existing barriers to making catch shares the default management tool for fisheries across the United States. Our New England team of scientists, policy experts and economists is laying the groundwork necessary to implement catch share systems throughout the region’s marine fisheries, starting with groundfish. We are working with fishermen and managers to design catch share systems that best fit local economic and ecological conditions.


The ocean’s once bountiful fishery resource now teeters on the brink of environmental and economic disaster. A recent assessment of New England groundfish found that 15 of 20 groundfish stocks in the region are either overfished, undergoing overfishing or both. New research provides a clear road map for fisheries managers to reverse years of declining fish stocks by implementing catch shares, a market-based management approach. Catch share programs replace complex rules dictating how fishing will be practiced, with a method to hold fishermen directly accountable for meeting a vital conservation target: scientifically determined catch limits. Enthusiasm for catch share programs is mounting among fishermen and managers and the required federal legislative framework is in place. There are 15 new proposals for catch shares within the New England groundfish fishery alone. Success in the New England groundfish fishery will help set provide a model for the region and the country.

Amount Approved
$10,000.00 on 12/15/2008 (Check sent: 12/22/2008)

  Related Organizations
Environmental Defense Fund  

Monkfish Boat
Bass Harbor Panorama


Barbara A McCullough
Senior Foundations Officer, Environmental Defense
Jessica Morten
Development Assistant, Institutional Giving
Margaret Henkels
Foundations Officer
Robin Hinton
Institutional Giving Coordinator, Environmental Defense Fund
Sharon Nadel
Grant Writer

Posted 9/17/2008 12:01 PM
Updated   12/13/2012 5:33 PM

  • Nonprofit

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