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Science & Environment
The Future of New England's Fisheries This summer, we’re taking an in-depth look at the current state and future prospects of New England’s fisheries.Starting Monday, July 8th, we’re spending two weeks delving into these issues. We invite you to share your thoughts, your questions, and your stories.Let us hear from you in our Online Survey, as we identify priorities for the future of the fisheries.

Shared Hopes for Our Fisheries' Future

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Elspeth Hay
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As fishing areas close in the face of dwindling stocks, we look at what the hopes are among fishing folks for the future. In some areas -- such as lobsters, scallops and striped bass -- there are success stories that can be looked at to determine what is going right. But other areas of the sea are closed, and some wonder if they will stay that way. 

SHIFTING TOWARD DIVERSIFICATION

Eric Hess is a groundfisherman. He’s been fishing off the Cape for species like haddock and cod for nearly 30 years. But these days he says it's very hard in his sector to catch enough fish to meet the cost of fishing. He says boats are dropping out and looking to other opportunities—the Georges Bank fixed gear sector, of which he is a member, is roughly the same size it was five years ago, but most fishermen are not going after historically popular species. Some are switching to sea scalloping, and others are going after more abundant, lesser known species like monkfish, dogfish, and skate. 

Right now there isn't much of a local market for these species, but they are in demand overseas. The British love dogfish fried up in fish and chips, and the French like skate wings with capers and brown butter. Local fishermen hope Cape Codders will also come to appreciate these fish.

LEARNING SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

Some fisheries seem to have found a balance between sustaining the fish and the fishermen. Scalloper Eric Vafidies says his industry is doing well, and hopes the scallop fishery can serve as a model. Management of oysters, clams, striped bass, bluefish, and lobsters has also been successful.

Many scientists and regulators say the key to maintaining the fishing industry may be in managing the ecosystem more holistically. Jud Crawford is a biologist and policy manager at the Pew Charitable Trust in Boston. He says the populations of all species are connected, and that we need to develop a more ecologically-based approach to management. This means doing a better job of recognizing that all of our various decisions about how many herring and groundfish and other species to catch all interact with each other. 

APPRECIATING WHAT WE HAVE

In the meantime, in addition to backing off depleted stocks and diversifying into other fisheries, some in the industry say people could do a better job of appreciating what we do catch locally. Shannon Eldredge runs a catch share program out of Chatham with her family. She says the best way to support the future of our local fisheries is to support them right now: to eat from our successful fisheries and to do our part to help troubled fisheries recover—whether this means attending regulatory meetings or writing letters or simply serving something unusual for dinner.

Local advocacy groups and fish markets are working to make the species that are abundant locally more popular. They’re hosting talks and cooking demos with species like dogfish, monkfish, and skate, and hoping that Cape Codders will develop a taste for these untraditional fish. And fishermen and regulators are working to update management practices to protect species that are in trouble. It will take patience and diversification, but the hope that everyone in the industry shares is that eventually, every species can be managed sustainably. 

Listen to and explore all our WCAI radio reports for The Long Haul:

Part 1: New England's Fishermen Face a Challenge in Every Direction

Part 2: Cooperative Research Improves Fishery Science and Relationships

Part 3: Dwindling Baitfish Stocks Worry Fishermen and Regulators

Part 4: Protected Seals Raise Many Questions

Part 5: Combatting the Sea of Debris 

Part 6:  Not Just Fun, Recreational Fishing a Big Business for Massachusetts

Part 7:  Investigating Fish Contamination Leads to Questions About Genetics

Part 8: Climate Change Forces Reevaluation of Fishery Management

Part 9: Aquaculture on the Rise Across the Cape and Islands

Part 10: Shared Hopes for Our Fisheries' Future