Sector Management—Starting with the Hook
The sector movement got its start in the early 2000s. Georges Bank hook fishermen, who relied on codfish for their survival, saw steep declines in the cod population and faced restrictive new regulations. The problem became an opportunity for the fishing community to develop a program to help the cod population rebuild and keep the fishermen working.
Initially, fishery management policies focused on limiting both the days fishermen could go to sea and the amount of fish they could bring to port each day. While this may have made better sense for large-scale trawlers, it disproportionately affected the Chatham-Harwich day-boat hook fleet.
That's essentially because small-boat fishermen encountered greater day-to-day variation in their catch. Working within a limit of 1,000 pounds of cod per day, hook fishermen who caught 500 pounds one day would set more gear the next day and perhaps bring in 2,000 pounds––half of which had to be thrown overboard. The waste was intolerable. Clearly, a solution tailored to the needs of Cape Cod hook vessels was needed.
Working with the Fishermen's Alliance, local hook fishermen came together to craft a plan to end waste, set sustainable fishing limits, increase efficiency and profitability, and make decisions locally. The solution: trade in daily trip limits and limits on fishing days for an annual quota on cod. The fishermen pledged to record and bring home all of the legal-sized cod they caught and to stop fishing when they reached their quotas.
That plan became the Georges Bank Cod Hook Sector and was approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2004. It served as proof that setting and keeping hard limits can be done at the community level by the fishermen themselves and in ways that allowed fishing businesses to thrive.