Annual meeting focuses on science and economics

Mar 29, 2023 | Plumbing the Depths

Eric Hesse, chairman of the board of directors for the Fishermen’s Alliance, is one of many fishermen involved in scientific research.

By Doreen Leggett

Years ago, researchers were looking for butterfish off Cape Hatteras because that is where they were supposed to be at that time of year. Fishermen told them the fish were in the Gulf of Maine.

“None of the academic oceanographers had heard of that,” said Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution senior scientist Glen Gawarkiewicz.

Oceanographers also thought melting ice in Greenland, caused by climate change, would bring cold fresh water from the north to the continental shelf. Fishermen said the opposite was happening. The fishermen were right.

“That is why observations are so darn important,” said Gawarkiewicz.

Gawarkiewicz was the featured speaker at the annual meeting of the Fishermen’s Alliance and spoke about the importance of science done jointly by fishermen and scientists.

“We have been doing research based on what fishermen have been observing,” he told the audience gathered at the beginning of March. “How do fishing outcomes relate to the ocean processes out there?”

Much of the annual meeting, and the strategic plan of the Fishermen’s Alliance, is focused on that idea.

Melissa Sanderson, chief operating officer of the Fishermen’s Alliance, laid out the plan’s goals. They include leveraging scientific work required to drive good management through partnerships, encouraging and engaging public support for local fishermen.

Sanderson spoke about several research projects the Fishermen’s Alliance has been involved with that are designed to benefit fishermen.

One long-standing endeavor is  eMOLT  — Environmental Monitors on Lobster Traps and Large Trawlers. With close to $200,000 in grants, dissolved oxygen sensors and other monitoring devices have been placed on vessels, with dashboard equipment so fishermen can get real-time information about water conditions to help their businesses.

Another partnership with Gulf of Maine Research Institute is entering its second year and focuses on speaking with fishermen and processors about best practices throughout the supply chain.

“The goal is getting you all paid more,” Sanderson told industry members.

As part of another multi-year project, Fishermen’s Alliance is working with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to manage 200,000 pounds of Research Set Aside scallop quota,  which supports 20 local businesses and brings in $1.7 million in extra revenue for commercial fishermen. RSAs fund research to improve fisheries and spur economic development. Through the Alliance’s Cape Cod Fisheries Trust, 88,630 pounds of subsidized groundfish quota and 78,378 pounds of scallop quota were leased,  providing $1.2 million in additional revenue.

Monkfish RSA opportunities might be next, said Sanderson.

Without good access to water the fleet is homebound, so the Fishermen’s Alliance helped secure $1 million to fund dredging projects across the county and is working with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries on scientific research to update time of year restrictions on winter flounder that might unnecessarily stop dredging for months at a time.

The Fishermen’s Alliance also has policy initiatives outside the scientific realm. Stephanie Sykes, outreach coordinator, detailed Fishermen Training programs that range from student workshops with fishermen at the dock to developing a regional training framework.

The Fishermen’s Alliance is working with several partners, including the Greater Boston Food Bank and Barnstable County, to expand the Small Boats Big Taste food program. The initiative creates an additional opportunity for fishermen to sell their catch for a fair price, promotes local seafood, and supplies food banks and pantries with a delicious, nutritious meal.

Members also confirmed a slate of returning board of directors and appointed a new one, Captain Jesse Rose. Longtime board of directors Gwen Holden Kelly and Captain Tim Linnell were thanked for the years of service. They will be greatly missed.



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