Understanding Determinants of Success of New England Groundfish Sectors

The New England groundfish fishery is undergoing a major transformation with the expansion of the “sector” allocations to 17 new sectors in addition to the two existing sectors. This new approach, which devolves substantial management responsibilities to groups of fishermen, represents a potential transformation in the relationship among fishermen as well as the relationship between fishermen and the management councils. Sector allocations are considered as a way to provide fishermen with greater control and flexibility in their fishing businesses and greater economic efficiency while simultaneously ensuring sustainable management of groundfish stocks through strict limits on catch and improved monitoring.

The success of sectors is likely to depend largely on the attitudes and capabilities of the members that join them and skills and commitment of sector leaders. We hypothesize that their success will depend in part on the strength of the relationships between members including their degree of trust and collaboration. We expect that successful sectors will build norms and networks that enable collective action over time. Because sectors will be able to trade annual catch entitlement with other sectors to balance catches that exceed their initial allocation, we hypothesize that the connections and ability to cooperate with other sectors will also be important determinants of success. The value of these relationships is commonly referred to in social and economic literature as social capital.

There has been no evaluation of the social capital of existing Groundfish sectors or of the proposed sectors or other baseline information that may explain their future success or failure. We propose to design and implement a survey that will collect the baseline information necessary to measure the social capital of existing sectors and of new sectors before they begin operation. We will also survey a sample of permit holders that have not joined sectors. In addition to information relevant to measuring social capital, we will collect baseline information that can be used to measure performance of groundfish sectors in terms of socio-cultural and safety outcomes. This information will complement other data on catches, revenues and costs regularly collected by the NOAA fisheries. We plan to follow this with one or more additional surveys after the sectors have been operating to determine the role social capital played in their success (or lack thereof) and how whether and how the social capital of the sectors has evolved over time. This proposal requests year 1 funding for this research initiative which will collect and analyze baseline data and develop testable hypotheses on determinants of success for groundfish sectors.