The implementation of sector management in New England’s groundfish fishery sparked dramatic changes in every aspect of the industry, forcing an unprecedented level of innovation and adjustment. The switch from the effort controls of days-at-sea to the output controls of sector allocation, prompted primarily by federal mandates, changed everything from a fisherman’s pre-trip planning to business arrangements that get fish from the vessel to the table. Some fishermen are leaving the fishery, unable to compete in an era of tight catch limits, rising operational costs, and a redistribution of fishing privileges. Others are finding that the greater flexibility that sector management affords, with the option to lease additional allocation, and improved market conditions offer advantages over the days-at-sea system. The change to sectors sparked debates about the size and composition of the fleet, the role of private markets in establishing access to a public resource, and the adequacy of assessment science to set catch limits suitable to the new system. These debates are essential and may well lead to modifications in the management process.
This paper describes the key elements of sector management and outlines the extent and scale of the change it heralds. After just two years of operating under sectors, the region’s fishing industry, fisheries managers, and nonprofit community have responded with rapid innovation. Examples abound of that new thinking. Meanwhile, innovation also faces barriers. Finally, the region’s fishing communities could explore new avenues for maximizing the benefits of the sector system. Adaptation and innovation are central themes, recognizing that sector management introduced huge new challenges while opening new opportunities for the region’s fishing communities.