Fisheries Management

For more than 30 years, CLF has been devoted to restoring the legendary fish populations of New England’s coastal fisheries, a critical economic engine for the region and the cornerstone of our coastal culture. Once, New England’s fisheries inspired tales of cod schools so thick that fish jumped onto boats’ decks. However, decades of overfishing and federal fisheries mismanagement sharply depleted New England’s fish populations, including haddock, yellowtail flounder, and the iconic Atlantic cod, creating an environmental crisis that threatened to destroy our fishing heritage.

Beginning with a landmark lawsuit in 1991, in which CLF negotiated a management plan for groundfish fishing, CLF has fought to end overfishing, rebuild fish populations, and create sustainable fisheries in New England. Few areas of CLF’s advocacy are as emotionally and politically charged as fisheries management. With fishermen’s livelihoods in the balance, attempts to impose limits on the amount and type of fish they can catch — even in the interest of preserving the fisheries — have met with powerful resistance from some segments of the industry. For years, fishing regulations were driven not by science but by the short-term interests of industry heavyweights and their political allies. CLF has been tenacious in the face of such opposition, pushing again and again for regulations and policy based on sound science to achieve long-term results and help fishing communities thrive.

Finally, 2010 saw the implementation of the most significant changes to New England fishing regulations since the Fisheries Conservation and Management Act was enacted in 1976. Developed with fishermen, the rules established science-based catch limits and accountability measures for all groundfish caught. They improved fisheries monitoring, gave fishermen more flexibility to organize their businesses to maximize profits, reduced wasteful bycatch, and increased safety at sea. CLF was instrumental in developing the rules. We knew the transition would be bumpy but have advocated for staying the course and letting the new system work, while remaining nimble enough to fix problems as they arise. Early results have been promising.

CLF is also working to ensure the sustainability of New England’s herring fishery. As a keystone species of New England’s ocean ecosystem, Atlantic herring is a critical food source for many other species, including cod, haddock, tuna, striped bass, and many species of whales and seabirds. Atlantic herring populations are under assault from industrial trawl ships that catch millions of herring – as well as all other sea life in the vicinity – in their vast nets. These massive hauls threaten smaller sub-populations of herring and decrease the amount of food available for other species in the greater ecosystem. CLF is pushing for improved monitoring and management of this damaging industrial fleet.