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NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE-164

An Overview of the Social and Economic Survey Administered during Round II of the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Disaster Assistance Program

Julia Olson and Patricia M. Clay
National Marine Fisheries Serv., Woods Hole Lab., 166 Water St., Woods Hole, MA  02543

Web version posted April 9, 2002

Citation: Olson J, Clay PM. 2001. An Overview of the Social and Economic Survey Administered during Round II of the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Disaster Assistance Program. US Dep Commer, NOAA Tech Memo NMFS NE 164; 69 p.

Information Quality Act Compliance: In accordance with section 515 of Public Law 106-554, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center completed both technical and policy reviews for this report. These predissemination reviews are on file at the NEFSC Editorial Office.

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This paper characterizes and summarizes responses to selected questions from the Social and Economic Survey administered in spring and summer 2000 to recipients of the second round (Round II) of financial assistance in the Northeast (Gulf of Maine) Multispecies Fishery Disaster Assistance Program. The paper indicates how these fishermen conduct their livelihood, the beliefs they have about fishing, and the social communities in which they live, and points to further research needs generated by the initial survey results. Both permit holders (vessel owners) and crew members participated in the survey which covered six broad themes: households and communities, expenditure impacts, business practices, management and enforcement, capacity and the future, and fishing family assistance. Survey results, while summarized across all respondents, illustrate both the degree of similarity and diversity within the fleet. While some survey results corroborate accepted arguments in the social sciences of fishing, others point to possible qualifications, especially notions of the “local,” and of community. For many respondents, visions of the future seemed to center on notions of community and community relations as alternative spaces for institutional foundations, with promising implications for future management.


Congress appropriated five million dollars to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in late 1998 to provide emergency disaster assistance to persons or entities in the Northeast multispecies fishery who incurred losses from a commercial fishery failure due to declining groundfish stocks. (The Northeast multispecies fishery covers 15 species occurring between Maine and North Carolina: Acadian redfish, American plaice, Atlantic cod, Atlantic halibut, haddock, ocean pout, offshore hake, pollock, red hake, silver hake, white hake, windowpane, winter flounder, witch flounder, and yellowtail flounder.) The initial round of disaster assistance, initiated in October 1999, was directed towards groundfish fishermen most affected by seasonal area closures enacted in 1999 in the Gulf of Maine. Although about 200 individual permit holders (vessel owners) in the fishery received an average of about $12,500 each, the first round of disaster assistance did not exhaust all of the appropriated funds. Therefore, NOAA Fisheries initiated a second round (Round II) of disaster assistance in March 2000. In Round II, eligibility requirements were broadened such that many more people, including both vessel owners and their crew members, became qualified to receive one-time payments of up to $7,500 per owner and up to $1,500 per crew member. In return for receiving compensation, participants agreed to make their vessel available for cooperative research projects and/or to respond to a survey that would provide social and economic information for fisheries management.

The Social and Economic Survey that resulted from this initiative covered six broad areas of interest to policy-makers, researchers, and stakeholders: households and communities, expenditure impacts, business practices, management and enforcement, capacity and the future, and fishing family assistance (Appendices I and II). The survey questions solicited specific information, as well as feedback for improving future surveys. Owners received surveys in March 2000, and had until the middle of the following month to complete their survey; crew received surveys in May 2000, and were given until the end of the following month to complete their survey. Completed surveys from 286 owners (holding ownership of 297 vessels) and 181 crew members (representing 135 permitted vessels) were received and processed. The response rate was 78.1% for owners eligible in both rounds, and 75.1% for crew.

This paper looks at trends across all survey respondents in order to provide a general indication of the material available in the survey results. It does not, however, examine the connections within the set of responses for any given survey respondent; further study will be needed to examine the configuration of response patterns for individual fishermen in order to better approach the interplay between meaning and practice. The eventual goal to further such study is a database maintained by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center that will be made accessible to outside researchers, while preserving the anonymity of survey respondents.



The respondents can be characterized as fishermen who predominantly fish using small- to medium-scale boats (over 80% belong to tonnage classes 1 and 2 which include boats under 50 gross registered tons), have multispecies permits in the fleet days-at-sea (DAS) permit category, and fish using bottom trawls or, to a lesser extent, gill nets (Table 1a, Table 2a, and Table 3). Compared to all other vessels with a valid multispecies permit (hereafter the “overall groundfish fleet”), the survey respondents fish with somewhat older and less powerful vessels (in terms of vessel horsepower and gross registered tonnage); yet, the distribution of size classes in the survey population is less skewed than the overall permitted groundfish fleet (Table 1b). That is to say, both the very small and very large vessels are not represented in the survey population. This difference can be attributed, in part, to the large number of multispecies vessels in the overall groundfish fleet that are permitted in the open-access categories H-K, and that fish primarily with hand gears (Table 2b and Table 3).

Most surveyed crew members and owners live in ports along the Gulf of Maine coast (Figure 1 and Figure 2), while the distribution of homeports for all vessels in the overall groundfish fleet implies a much wider distribution of residences, though it should be noted that the vessel homeport represents the mooring location of a vessel and cannot be taken as synonymous with residence for all fishermen (Figure 3). Moreover, because the survey was administered to people eligible for disaster relief from specific area closures, the results cannot necessarily be generalized to all fishermen in the Northeast.

Yet, while the profile of the average survey respondent may not match all of the characteristics of the average owner or crew member in the overall groundfish fleet, survey respondents seem to resemble more closely – in terms of the actual landings of groundfish – the region’s active core of medium-sized, limited-access, groundfish fishermen. The 1999 landings of large-mesh groundfish were largely brought in by bottom trawl and gillnet vessels that fished in the individual and fleet DAS permit categories, and that were homeported in New England (Table 4), which is in large measure similar to characteristics of the survey respondents. Nonetheless, whatever the uniqueness or representativeness of the group which qualified for disaster assistance (Table 5), the survey responses provide a glimpse into how the members of that group conduct their livelihood, into the beliefs they have about fishing, and into the social communities in which they live.


Respondents were typically long-time fishermen, with owners averaging 28 yr on the water and crew averaging 18 yr (Table 6), with an analogous difference in average ages (47 and 38 yr old, respectively). While fewer than half of either group claimed a father or grandfather in the industry (Table 6), about 21% of owners and 13% of crew were associated with families having four or more generations in the fishing industry (see Table 15). Owner households were more than twice as likely as crew households to belong to fishing industry organizations (51 and 19%, respectively); nonetheless, the majority of owners and crew felt that those organizations represented fishermen’s interests (Table 6). While about half of all respondents had previously worked in nonfishing jobs – with crew somewhat more likely to have done so – both crew and owner households earned, on average, 83-84% of their current income from the fishing industry (Table 6). Many of these households are fishing households, in which other family members (primarily spouses, but also children and parents) are involved in various aspects of the business (Table 7).

The majority of fishermen surveyed considered the town in which they live to be a fishing community, though less than half considered their communities dependent on fishing (Table 6); this partial disconnect between community and dependence voices multiple notions of what constitutes a fishing community, and speaks to the need to consider “on-the-ground” notions of economic and social dependence when assessing communities. The fishermen who considered their communities “fishing communities” most commonly referred to the high number of boats, fishermen, or fishing businesses and infrastructure present (cited by 57% of owners and 41% of crew). Another important factor noted was a long history of ties in the community to the fishing profession (27% of both owners and crew). These percentages should be interpreted with some caution, as many of the same respondents who considered their town a fishing community also said their views had changed over time, voicing concern that their communities were being–or already had been–forced out of fishing. For the respondents who did not regard their port as a fishing community, the most common reasons were: a lack of fishing boats or fishing facilities, including supportive organizations (56% of owners and 58% of crew); living inland and fishing elsewhere (18% of owners and 19% of crew); and regional changes out of fishing due to tourism, development, or regulations (19% of owners and 11% of crew).

Yet, respondents provided more nuanced and sometimes ambiguous explanations about community in further commentary, a better sense of which can be gained from examining responses at a smaller scale (see also Hall-Arber et al. (2001) for in-depth regional and port descriptions). While the sense of not being dependent on fishing closely coincided with the sense of being a nonfishing community, this relationship showed regional differences. (With the exception of Gloucester, Massachusetts, most communities did not have enough respondents for meaningful comparisons to be made, so discussion will be confined to the state level.) Of the 82 owner respondents from Maine, 34 said they did not live in a fishing community, 47 said they did, and 1 responded other. For those who lived in self-declared nonfishing communities, the overwhelming majority (94.1%) also did not consider them dependent on fishing; for those who did live in self-declared fishing communities, just over two-thirds (68.1%) also considered them dependent on fishing. Of the 33 owner respondents from New Hampshire, 21 said they did not live in a fishing community, and 12 said they did. For those who lived in self-declared nonfishing communities, the overwhelming majority (90.5%) also did not consider them dependent on fishing; for those who did live in self-declared fishing communities, only one-fourth (25.0%) also considered them dependent on fishing. Of the 106 owner respondents from Massachusetts, not including Gloucester, 45 said they did not live in a fishing community, 59 said they did, and 2 responded other. For those who lived in self-declared nonfishing communities, the overwhelming majority (95.6%) also did not considered them dependent on fishing; for those who did live in self-declared fishing communities, less than half (44.1%) also considered them dependent on fishing. Owner respondents from Gloucester, Massachusetts, numbered 63, of which 62 considered Gloucester a fishing community and only 1did not (for whom Gloucester was also not dependent on fishing). For those who called Gloucester a fishing community, nearly all (91.9%) also considered it dependent on fishing.

What lies behind many of these responses is a shifting sense of what constitutes the fishing community itself, especially with respect to the respondents’ views about community members who do not fish. For example, many of the Maine respondents who considered their ports to be fishing communities but not to be dependent on fishing, reasoned that what made their community a fishing community was a large number of fishermen working out of, or living in, the area – particularly if there was a history of such fisheries participation. However, what these Maine respondents regarded as the community as a whole was one which was primarily engaged in other activities; here, the notion of a fishing community was more as an enclave within a larger jurisdiction. Those who considered their fishing communities to be dependent on fishing, tended to view other occupations – such as those in the tourism industry or with seafood restaurants – as themselves dependent on fishing. It should be noted that these variations often occurred among respondents claiming the same community. Yet, the survey respondents from Gloucester, in particular, showed a remarkably consistent sense of being a fishing community, focusing on both a history of fishing and a strongly articulated sense of an entire community dependent on and supportive of fishing, in contrast to respondents from other towns who wrote of how the greater community now works against them.

Of course, it is easy to read too much into short survey answers, and understanding the differences and the representations of community lends itself better to ethnographic interviewing. But the point is not so much that one set of answers is right and the other wrong, but that one’s notions of, and mutual commitments to, a community are colored precisely by the variety of relations that constitute and affect community. As one respondent explained, his community was dependent on fishing because “There are hundreds of families that live on cape year[-]round who make their living from the sea.” He reasoned, nonetheless, that he didn’t live in a fishing community because “The Cape is [being] overrun by development. There is a fishing community here, but it[’]s becoming harder to find.”


The Social and Economic Survey solicited data on the flow of fishing costs and expenditures through 13 broad regions: Downeast Maine, Upper Mid-Coast Maine, Lower Mid-Coast Maine, Southern Maine, New Hampshire Coast, Gloucester/North Shore, Boston/South Shore, Cape and Islands, New Bedford Area, Rhode Island, Connecticut Coast, Non-Coastal New England, and Outside New England (Appendix I and Appendix II).

Based on all survey respondents, most captains (95.3%) and crew (82.3%) lived in their vessel’s home region, and most vessels also purchased the majority of their fishing and vessel needs in their home region (Table 8). Of these purchases, bait (for those applicable), moorage fees, fuel, and food were more likely acquired in the home region; likewise, crew spent the majority of their income in their home regions as well. Insurance and new gear, on the other hand, were less likely to be acquired in a vessel’s home region. Most respondents did not believe that recent closures or other regulations had significantly changed in which of the 13 regions they made purchases or spent their income; however, some fishermen noted that the level of their purchases had decreased, while others wrote that they were doing business in larger metropolitan areas because of, for example, port changes due to area closures, or because smaller, local businesses had closed.


According to the vessel owners surveyed, the most significant changes in fishing business practices due to the past 5 yr of regulations were: “decreased time spent on the water,” “postponed new gear,” “changed fishing location,” “took on less crew,” and “cut back on gear and vessel maintenance” (Table 9). These changes can have many different implications, from financial solvency to community impacts to vessel safety, to mention a few. The following subsections explore these implications further, drawing from selected questions in this section of the survey (Appendix I and Appendix II, Section 3).

Changes in Number and Composition of Crew

The average number of crew members working on the vessels represented in the survey decreased from 2.1 in 1994 to 1.8 in 2000 (see Table 16). The stability and composition of the crew may have also changed, for while almost all (93.4%) of the crew survey respondents said that they were considered a regular crew member of one boat, almost one-third (29.8%) also said that the crew changes during the year. The most common explanations for crew changes were that the boat was not making money (30%) or that there were personal problems between the owner and the crew or within the crew (19%) – neither of which are necessarily unique to the current regulatory climate. Another common explanation for lack of stability was a reduction in available crew “sites” (a term commonly used by fishermen to mean a billet or employment on a vessel) explicitly attributed to area and DAS regulations (21%). Further, while 24% of crew survey respondents saw no change in the type of individuals being drawn to fishing occupations, 38% indicated that crew members overall were getting older (or that few young people were going into the profession), 13% noted that new and different ethnic groups and nationalities were entering those occupations, 12% said that reliable and knowledgeable help was becoming harder to find, and 9% said that the crew was in fact getting younger.

Despite these differences, what many of these responses seemed to share was a concern that fishing was increasingly seen as an unreliable source of income, and that a strong outside economy was both drawing away its core and changing a traditional family and life cycle of crew to owner. To what extent these changes vary regionally, affect already existing differences among ports in the crew-to-owner cycle (see Smith and Peterson 1977), or themselves engender significantly different social relations, bears greater attention in future studies.

Time at Sea

Another possible indication of changing social relations – within the boat, family, and community – can be inferred from practices such as time away at sea. Over half (58.1%) of crew respondents stated that the amount of time they spent away from home had changed compared to 5 yr ago: 44.8% said that time away at sea had increased (primarily due to moving farther offshore, or taking longer trips to find fish), 39.0% said that time away at sea had decreased (primarily due to increasingly stringent regulatory changes such as DAS cuts), and 3.8% said it had both increased and decreased in that they were at sea less often, but when they were gone the trips had become considerably longer. (The remaining 12.4% of respondents gave no answer.)


Slightly over half (54.2%) of owners responded that their vessel had needed help either while fishing at sea or in returning to port at least once during the past 5 yr, of which those required help on average 2.9 times (range of 1-32) during the 1995-99 period. The average number of times for vessels needing help in any given year was relatively constant (between 1.4 and 1.6 times a year), although the number of vessels that needed help did vary annually (Table 10). Of those owners who had not required any assistance at sea during this 5-yr period, they still had delayed trips due to mechanical or electrical problems during the last 12 mo of the period, on average 2.5 times (range of 0-52). By contrast, those who had required assistance at sea had a slightly higher number of delayed trips during the last 12 mo, on average 2.9 times (range of 0-20). However, respondents claimed that most (84% for owners and 86% for crew) of the fishermen they knew had all the required safety equipment in good operating order on their vessels.

Recent studies have indicated that the probability of vessel accidents decreased in the decade prior to the time period of the survey (Jin et. al [in review]); yet, whether assistance at sea varies inversely or directly with the documented accident rate, and how assistance needs may interact with and be influenced by risk-taking, deferred maintenance, and regulatory inducements, require future study.

Income Effects

Owners were also asked what factors have affected their ability to make a living, and both owners and crew members were asked how changing regulations have affected their household finances. The factors cited most commonly by owners as having a “very negative effect” on their livelihood included “increased marine fishery regulation” (83.6%), “increased costs of harvesting fish” (45.1%), and “loss of habitat” (42.7%). Other factors cited by owners less commonly as having a “very negative effect” were “coastal development” (18.9%), “increased number of recreational fishers” (20.3%), and “loss of markets for harvested fish” (24.5%). Only 5.2% of owners and 5.0% of crew listed no changes in their household finances; the most common changes, similar for both groups (Table 9), were reducing or eliminating savings, cutting back or eliminating vacations, and postponing the purchase of new vehicles. Owners (40.6%) also cut back on insurance in general (including vessel, home, auto, health, life, and/or unspecified insurances), while almost one-quarter (23.8%) specified they had no health insurance at all (see Table 15). The insurance situation was more acute for crew, with almost half (49.2%) indicating that they had reduced or eliminated insurance in general (including auto, health, life, and/or unspecified insurances), while over half (55.2%) of crew respondents specified that they had no health insurance whatsoever.

With respect to nonfishing income, 44.4% of owners reported some increase or a major increase (25.2 and 19.1%, respectively [note that totals may differ from sums of components due to rounding error of components]) in their dependence on nonfishing income during the past 5 yr, while a nearly equal percentage of owners (46.5%) reported no change. Many of the owner respondents incurred an increased debt load to cover reduced fishing income, with 59.5% of owners reporting some increase or a major increase (31.5 and 28.0%, respectively) in the use of loans and other credit during 1995-99; 29.0% of owner respondents, however, saw no change in debt load during this time period. In terms of changing labor practices–which both reflect and further impact these changes – 30.1% of owners experienced some decrease or a major decrease (12.9 and 17.2%, respectively) in the use of nonfamily hired labor or crew (47.2% saw no change); 41.9% reported some increase or a major increase (27.6 and 14.3%, respectively) in the use of family labor (49.0% saw no change); and 50.4% indicated some increase or a major increase (30.8 and 19.6%, respectively) in the need for family members in more roles (40.9% saw no change). To what extent these changes indicate permanent structural changes in labor relations warrants further study.

Responses to Closures

Owners were specifically asked how their fishing practices change when one of their traditional fishing grounds is closed. The most common answers were: “fish in the closest area to the closed area, if there is a reasonable chance of success for the same species” (67.8%), “go to the next area that has a reasonable chance for the species I’m allowed to fish” (59.8%), “try several areas around the closed area” (49.7%), and “depending on length/size of closure, might switch target species” (45.5%). Other responses less commonly cited by owners were “depending on length/size of the closure, might move to a different port altogether” (22.0%), and “fish in closed area with exempted gear” (21.3%). The fact that fishermen seem less likely to move to a different port is good news for those concerned about community disruption due to closures, though other factors in maintaining sustainable communities need to be examined.

Marketing Changes

Most fishermen (60.5%) indicated that they chose a dealer trip by trip, basing decisions according to the particular species they were selling (31.8%) or by shopping around for the best price (28.7%). Other fishermen had dealers prearranged before their trip (27.6%) or sold to an organization to which they belonged (15.1%). A number of owners (15.4%) indicated that they also sold their catch at an auction. When specifically asked to compare auction to nonauction sales, auctions came out on top in 11 of 12 possible categories, for example, “speed of sale,” “treated well,” “quality is rewarded,” “speed of payment,” and “firm prices”; only “personal contact” received a higher rating under nonauction sales. About 5% of owners, however, commented that they had no options for their sales and marketing practices: that there was only one dealer or auction in town, or that local businesses were closing down and forcing them to go to larger towns. Thus, regional stability implied in the results of the Section 3 of the survey (“Expenditure Impacts of Fishing Industry in New England”) does not preclude the possibility of microlevel changes and impacts, and reiterates the need for local-level studies.


Mesh-size regulations were the management measures considered by both owners and crew to most effectively reduce fishing mortality, and least negatively impact income and family life (Table 11). Large, long-term closures were deemed hardest on families and finances, while trip limits and overall quotas (total allowable catches or TACs) were seen as least effective in reducing fishing mortality. The strength and consistency of these responses echo views expressed by others in the fishing industry, and may indicate that these views are generally shared by many fishermen.

Responses to questions about management processes (Table 12) reveal that more public outreach and involvement are needed. Most respondents (71.4% of owners and 87.3% of crew) had either never or seldom attended a Council or Committee meeting. A little more than half of the owners (59.1%) and crew (51.4%) felt that they understood the Council/Committee management system; 65.0% of owners and 56.9% of crew felt that they knew the important laws that guide the fisheries management process. At the same time, a little more than half of owners (53.9%) indicated they needed more information about regulations to conduct their businesses better, a need second only to more information about gear technology (cited by 62.6%). About three-quarters of both groups felt that they understood fish population dynamics, but only about one-third of owners and one-fourth of crew felt that they knew how economic information was used in the management process, and fewer of these fishermen said they understood how social and cultural information was used (55% of owners, however, felt they knew why such information was important). Moreover, 73.4% of owner respondents and 54.7% of crew respondents felt that their views do not get expressed in the formal Council/Committee management process, and a number of respondents who answered that their views were expressed, tempered that sentiment by explaining that they still were not listened to. These responses speak to a feeling, among some owners and crew, of disenfranchisement in the management process.

Most respondents (92.3% of owners and 90.1% of crew), nonetheless, indicated that fishermen generally want to comply with regulations. Almost all respondents (95.8% of owners and 97.8% of crew) believed that at least 50% of commercial fishermen usually or always complied with groundfish laws and regulations, and over half of respondents (55.2% of owners and 50.8% of crew) believed that 95-100% of fishermen did so. The majority of respondents also felt that there was adequate enforcement both at sea (84.6% of owners and 85.1% of crew) and on the dock (81.1% of owners and 86.7% of crew).

Compliance and enforcement are not limited to just federal and state regulations, however, for the responses to a question asking owners which “local, informal, traditional fishing rules or codes or agreements (not federal or state regulations) affect how you fish,” indicated a vital system of local practices. Most commonly cited were: “rules or traditions for avoiding gear damage to other gears” (61.2%), “rules that limit where I fish” (54.9%), “rules or traditions to minimize waste and discards and encourage conservation” (53.9%), “rules that designate areas for different gears” (52.8%), “rules that limit when I fish” (52.8%), and “rules for cooperation among same gear vessels” (45.5%). These findings are consistent with the literature on community-based management (see McGoodwin 1990 for an overview), which has documented the many possible and extant forms of regulation and resource management, and the disenchantment of many fishermen with institutional arrangements of “top-down” management.


Many stakeholders have become increasingly concerned about the future of fishermen and fishing communities. Fishermen’s associations, special partnerships, and vision statements have been created – in part – in the past 5 yr in response to changing management regulations. Economists, anthropologists, and other social scientists working in fisheries have also been concerned with how individuals and communities are reacting to and planning for these changes. The survey revealed that many of the respondents neither see the need for much change in fleet structure or fishing practices, nor are optimistic about effective changes in future management strategies. Most respondents believe that current levels of fishing capacity (number of vessels, total effort, etc.) are reasonable for current stock conditions, and do not believe there will be too much active fishing capacity for a rebuilt biomass to sustain. The majority had no plans to reduce their own effort when stocks rebuild; almost half had made investments, mostly in gear, to increase their current catch per day.

Most respondents also plan to continue fishing themselves (see next section on “Fishing Family Assistance”), and 63.5% of crew still want to own their own vessel, even though 55.8% have changed their expectations of doing so over the past 5 yr. Nonetheless, only one-quarter of respondents would advise young people to go into fishing (Table 13). The majority of respondents (86.7% of owners and 79.0% of crew) believe that the current permit system reduces flexibility for fishermen, but only just over one-half think that system could be changed without increasing fishing pressure on stocks (Table 13). Similarly, only 26.5% of the crew respondents think that crew members should be licensed. About one-third thought there could be advantages to a system of localized control of fishing capacity such as the Maine lobster management zones (primarily because it would take into account area characteristics and allow fishermen a more direct responsibility), but 28.0% of owners, and even more crew (44.8%), thought such a system would ultimately not work.

Both owners and crew were presented with a list of possible goals for fisheries in the Northeast region, and showed very similar tendencies in the ranking of the different objectives (Table 14). The goals with which respondents most “strongly agreed” or “agreed” were: “maximum benefits to the community” (83.3% of owners and 74.1% of crew), “secure places for existing fishermen with opportunities not reduced by new entrants” (76.2% of owners and 75.2% of crew), “maximum possible number of fishing jobs the resource can support” (60.5% of owners and 64.1% of crew), “harvest capacity matched to resources” (72.7% of owners and 60.7% of crew), “new entrants limited to numbers exiting” (55.9% of owners and 49.2% of crew), and “maximum economic benefits to the nation” (61.5% of owners and 47.0% of crew). The only goal that was evenly split in interpretation – and evenly split for both owners and crew – was “maximum possible number of fishermen.” Finally, the only goal with which respondents most “strongly disagreed” or “disagreed” was “unlimited entry in any fishery” (68.5% of owners and 57.5% of crew). These responses speak to an accordance with notions of both ecological and social sustainability.


The Social and Economic Survey also solicited views on the fishing family assistance programs that have been available over the past 5 yr (Appendix I and Appendix II, section 6). About three-fourths of the respondents were aware of these programs, though almost as many had never used them (Table 15). Less than one-third (31.8%) of the owners expressed interest in using free computer and Internet access at the fishing family assistance centers, and even fewer owners (18.9%) were interested in attending career orientation workshops; the vast majority (93.7%) were committed to staying in fishing. Among crew however, there was more interest in both using the centers and in career workshops, despite a strong commitment to continue fishing.

While the surveyed fishermen as a whole do not wish to leave the industry, they are considering other, at least temporary, options to their normal fishing patterns. Almost half of the owners surveyed (46.2%) were interested in a vessel buyback program, and 71.0% were interested in using their vessel in additional ways such as research, charter, day-hire, and training (Table 16). Over half (61.5%) of the owners indicated they would like more information on gear technology, and almost half were interested in additional information on grants and regulations. Finally, while a minority of crew and owner respondents cited a need for assistance in, for example, applying for loans or setting up a new business (Table 15), crew respondents were somewhat more likely than owners to say they did need such assistance. Overall, most respondents expressed satisfaction with the opportunities available at the fishing family assistance centers, although the responses may also indicate that a need exists for greater outreach to crew members.


Stakeholder surveys can begin to give fishery analysts and managers a better sense of the knowledge, practices, and beliefs of fishing participants, in order to move toward better-informed management and policy planning. This paper has presented results from the Social and Economic Survey that, while summarized across all respondents, have illustrated both the degree of similarity and diversity within the overall groundfish fleet. For example, while the effects from regulatory changes were consistently acknowledged by respondents, the particular kinds of effects, and their distribution, often varied: some respondents saw crew members getting younger, others saw them getting older; some respondents saw trips getting longer, others saw them getting shorter. This diversity may hinge on any number of considerations – from sociotechnological factors such as gear and vessel size, to regional and port differences – which this paper has only begun to explore. Indeed, while some survey results corroborate accepted arguments in the social sciences of fishing, other survey results seem to point to possible divergences. As one example, active participation in informal management practices that exist outside the federal and state regulatory framework is consistent with the literature on community-based management; yet, the general rejection as workable of attempts at local areas of control such as the Maine lobster zones suggests some qualification of what “local” means for mobile gear types. As another example, many social science studies of fishing have focused on the role of kinship, family, and history in constituting fishing practices and businesses; yet, here we see the average respondent often being the first generation to fish, but one whose community – if not immediate family – may be centrally involved in fishing activities.

While these observations invite further exploration and research, the survey results themselves point in a number of directions. These survey results project an image of a group of fishermen who feel disenfranchised from the federal management process; yet, these results also show promise for future management direction. For many respondents, visions of the future seemed to center on notions of community and community relations as alternative spaces for institutional foundations; that is to say, communities were seen by many as the most appropriate level at which to incorporate fishermen’s knowledge and to negotiate decisions. Yet, such notions again raise questions about the relations among communities, localities, and fishing grounds, and about the differing modes of, and relations involved in, resource management (see also Pálsson 1991; McCay 2000). In answering questions about capacity and the future, neither owners nor crew saw any signs of excess capacity in the fleet as currently constituted; yet, the most clearly stated goals for the future were a strong position against unlimited entry and a strong agreement for securing maximum benefits to the community. At the same time, while flows of resources and personnel across a regional level bespoke a relative stability, other answers indicated instability and anxiety at the port level, particularly for smaller ones and those faced with forces other than fishing and fisheries management, such as tourism and waterfront development. Here again, we face the dissonance among definitions of fishing community, definitions of community, and notions of dependence on fishing, where “community” may encompass various meanings and varying degrees of exclusion and inclusion. What communities can become and can do, for these very reasons, may serve as a “key symbol” that coalesces the concerns and practices of future fisheries management. It is hoped, therefore, that these summaries of responses to selected questions not only assist in the refinement of other such surveys in the future, but also inspire greater cooperative research on, and attention to, the patterns of responses and the sociocultural configurations underlying stakeholder beliefs and practices.


The authors acknowledge the assistance and editorial advice provided by Drs. Eric Thunberg, Phil Logan, and Fred Serchuk, and the informative and articulate responses provided by the fishermen who participated in the survey.


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DAS = days at sea
GRT = gross registered tons
NMFS = National Marine Fisheries Service
NOAA= National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
TAC = align="left">total allowable catch
VHP = vessel horsepower
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