From the Fishermen’s Alliance to NOAA, staying engaged in fishery science and management
Dr. George Maynard, knowing fishermen are always pressed for time, often found them at odd hours and out-of-the-way spots.
“Going above and beyond what was required or expected was pretty common for George,” said Melissa Sanderson, chief operating officer. “He was willing to do whatever it took to help the fleet.”
That included initiatives like creating clever dissection videos so fishermen could see what was required to gather scientific samples at sea, without wasting time training on land, as well as spending hour after hour crunching data to save fishermen time on deck.
Now Maynard, who served as research director at the Fishermen’s Alliance for the last three and a half years, will continue to bolster the success of commercial fishermen and drive science forward, just at a different place.
Earlier this month he took a job as a Marine Resources Management Specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Falmouth. He is working in the Fishery Monitoring and Research Division’s Data and Information Systems Branch.
Maynard said much of his work will be with electronic monitoring programs, making sure data is reliable, consistent and appropriately stored so it can be put into stock assessments to improve science and management.
For the last decade, Fishermen’s Alliance has advocated for electronic monitoring, where cameras are placed on boats – rather than human observers – to see what fishermen are catching.
“A lot of fishery-collected data doesn’t live up to its potential,” said Maynard. “My goal is to help move fishery dependent data into the scientific process. But, we also have to design sampling efforts to be as doable as possible for the fleet, and find ways we can reduce the work we ask fishermen to do at sea while maintaining the scientific integrity of the data they collect.”
He said it was a difficult decision to leave the Fishermen’s Alliance, tempered because he is remaining on Cape.
“I will still be working closely with the Fishermen’s Alliance and all of the regional groundfish partners and captains,” Maynard said in a farewell e-mail to industry members.
Captain Eric Hesse said although the fleet will miss the luxury of having a PhD onboard in such a small office, Maynard will bring with him a deeper understanding of the fishermen’s perspective into government, which will serve the industry well.
“It’s a win-win,” said Hesse, who has worked with Maynard on several projects and been involved in research efforts for decades.
There are a number of projects Maynard completed or set in motion that will pay dividends for the fleet. One is the halibut study, in which biological samples and tagging data were used to show that stocks of the valuable fish are likely increasing.
“It’s a great model for how scientists and fishermen can work together to better understand the marine ecosystem,” Maynard said.
The information, gathered by fishermen, analyzed and reported by Maynard and partners, shows that halibut once thought to be as rare as a unicorn have returned.
“It’s a (population) shift that hasn’t been captured in traditional survey methods,” Maynard said.
Proof of a healthy stock would help spur sustainable management plans and reintroduce consumers to the tasty fish. The multi-year project is entering its final stages.
“Where we are hitting the wall now is getting it into management’s hands,” said Maynard. A joint meeting with U.S. regulators, Canadian regulators (who manage a successful fishery), and fishing industry representatives was postponed because of COVID.
“It’s frustrating that it hasn’t gotten more traction,” Maynard said. “This is a fishery that would benefit many folks in small coastal communities.”
A similar, newer project focuses on scallops, the most commercially important catch in Massachusetts.
Scallops usually spawn twice a year in warmer waters in the mid-Atlantic, and until recently once in waters off New England. Now, with warming waters moving north, scallops may be spawning twice a year here as well, which may produce a smaller number of young overall and have repercussions for the health of the industry.
There is also uncertainty around whether using the animal’s meat size is the most effective way to measure reproductive capacity and forecast scallop stocks. Answering such questions would improve management, and research relies on getting many samples. Fishermen on the water during all seasons are the best resource for those samples.
But Maynard knows that getting the wealth of information that propels good science doesn’t guarantee good policy.
“No fisherman has the time to chase down regulators, get the permits, conduct, publish and present the research, never mind pay for it,” Maynard said. That’s where organizations like the Fishermen’s Alliance can really help the industry.
Sometimes Maynard’s work challenged his own assumptions.
“When I was in Maine working on hydropower and river fisheries, I thought offshore wind power was like a silver bullet,” he said.
But then Maynard spent a lot of time learning about the process and hearing from fishermen on everything from concerns about fishing area access, navigational safety, and the potential impacts of turbine construction and operation on fish.
“This is their livelihood, you have to respect their experience and learn from it,” he said. “Commercial fishermen know a lot about the ocean because they are out there every day, so scientists have a lot to gain from working with them.”