Our Ocean at Work: Communities at Sea

Fishing is inexorably linked to coastal communities. And, here on the East Coast many of those have traditions dating back centuries. As the ocean becomes increasingly busy and fish stocks shift with warming waters, the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Ocean Plans are actively working to ensure fishermen’s livelihoods, coastal communities and the blue economy can adapt and thrive. A year after those plans were finalized, the plans and data portals are working to ensure coastal communities have a voice in how our ocean is managed.

Never-before-developed data as part of the Mid-Atlantic Data Portal is increasing our understanding of commercial fisheries. Specifically, these innovative maps show Communities at Sea that highlight specific ports, fisheries, and gear type that are important in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. These maps are based on the methodology developed by Dr. Kevin St. Martin of Rutgers University and are more than two years in the making.

A federal agency staffer, state planner, or anyone interested in fisheries can now click on the open access, Communities at Sea data layers to understand, for example, where gillnetters from a particular port location fish. As any fisherman will tell you, the fish they follow don’t know or care about state boundaries. Fishermen, whose home port is in Newport News, Virginia, are also likely fishing in federal waters off the coast of New York. That means the decisions made off the coast of New York also affect communities and ports in other locations. This tool supports the Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Plan and ensures fishermen and the space they occupy on the water are represented in the data and as part of the ocean plan.

As part of the ocean planning process, fishermen also requested that the data portal include maps that highlight the fishery management zones including those for ocean quahogs, surf clams and scallops.

Additional datasets added to the portal use the Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) on board fishing vessels, which tracks vessel movement, to show where commercial fishing activity occurs. Datasets are grouped by specific categories such as scallops, herring or monkfish. This Mid-Atlantic VMS data is used courtesy of Northeast ocean planning colleagues and can be found on both the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Data Portals. Together with the Communities at Sea data sets and fishery management zones, we now have a powerful tool and clearer picture of where important fishing areas are occurring.

The collective value of these maps is extensive. This data can help guide engagement with specific fishing communities when a potential management or permitting process occurs in the waters where they fish. This type of targeted engagement is a step to ensure fishermen have a voice in development activities affecting their fishing grounds and a crucial step to avoid future ocean use conflicts.

Read the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal team’s blog for more information on the methods behind the Communities at Sea data. Also, check out both the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Data Portals for fishing specific data and updates.


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