Cape and Islands Fishermen Partner with Nature Conservancy to Support Local Fishing Communities

By ecoRI News staff

MENEMSHA and CHATHAM, Mass. — In partnership with local fishermen’s organizations, The Nature Conservancy recently acquired groundfish permits on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod to advance more sustainable fishing practices, keep local fishermen on the water and help ensure long-term access to the fishery for traditional fishing communities.

In recent years, the decline of groundfish populations, such as Atlantic cod, has led to dramatically reduced quotas for some groundfish species, according to The Nature Conservancy. Many fishermen have been unable to sustain their businesses and have made the tough decision to sell their permits. Since fishing permits are not tied to a specific geographic location, selling a permit means the permit may leave the community.

“The Nature Conservancy and our fishing community partners have a shared goal of rebuilding groundfish populations, which is good for the marine ecosystem, good for fishing communities and good for fishermen’s businesses,” said Chris McGuire, marine program director for The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts. “To reach that goal, we work directly with fishermen to help to secure community access, enable innovation and improve the information used for fisheries management. Ultimately, we plan to transfer these permits to the communities.”

On Martha’s Vineyard, the conservancy, collaborating with the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust, has bought the island’s last remaining historic groundfish permit, thereby ensuring that it will remain local and will be accessible for future generations of Martha’s Vineyard fishermen.

“We wanted our fishing permit to stay on Martha’s Vineyard and not go to some corporation or conglomerate,” said Greg Mayhew, who fishes out of Menemsha on the F/V Unicorn and sold his permit to the conservancy. “We want to give an opportunity to a local fisherman who will use our permit as one part of a diverse fishing business that was so much a part of our family through the years.”

Community permit ownership is often referred to as “permit banking,” and the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance and The Nature Conservancy are national leaders in this approach. The conservancy first bought permits in California in the mid-2000s, and has since established permit banks in Maine and New Hampshire. These recent permit acquisitions mark the conservancy’s first groundfish permits in Massachusetts.

In addition to the Martha’s Vineyard permit, the conservancy also has partnered with the Fishermen’s Alliance to buy groundfish permits from four Cape Cod fishermen.

The Nature Conservancy has been involved in collaborative research with Cape fishermen for more than two years.

“I want future generations of Cape Cod fishermen to have access to fisheries off our coast, but over time that’s become a very hard thing to guarantee,” said John Tuttle, who fishes from the F/V Cuda, based in Chatham, and sold his permits to the conservancy.

This arrangement, according to local fishermen, gave small-boat fishermen on Martha’s Vineyard and the Cape who were aging out of the fishery a chance to sell permits reasonably and preserve those permits in the community.

“The Nature Conservancy and the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust have a shared vision of safeguarding fish and fishermen,” said John Keene, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust. “Both understand the need to protect the Vineyard’s fishing rights and to support efforts that improve the ecological resilience of marine ecosystems.”