MREP as a Catalyst for Cooperation: Improving Science, Management and Trust through the Marine Resource Education Program for the Benefit of the Northeast Fisheries Community

The Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), in collaboration with fishing industry partner Mary Beth Tooley (O’Hara Corporation and Small Pelagics Group) and John Williamson (Sea Keeper Consulting), seeks funding for two education and outreach initiatives of the Marine Resource Education Program (MREP). While educational in nature, the Marine Resource Education Program model has demonstrated marked success as a mechanism to foster trust and improved communication between the Northeast regional office, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, and fishing industry members. Funding for MREP would enable this successful collaborative program, now in its eighth year, to continue delivery of professional development programs tailored specifically for fishermen and relevant stakeholder groups, with the existing curriculum (MREP 100) offered twice annually, and the development of an advanced (MREP 200) program for alumni of the existing program.

The Marine Resource Education Program provides opportunities for NOAA Fisheries to engage in productive and positive dialogue with marine stakeholders, building relationships based on mutual respect and understanding that deepen over time. MREP provides a mechanism for effective transfer of science and policy information to stakeholders, raising visibility of the Service’s work among key constituents.

The Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General, in its 2009 report to Senator Kennedy, noted that both researchers and industry members said the Marine Resource Education Program formed relationships that “provide a foundation that continually supports the ongoing interactions between NOAA and the industry during the fisheries management process” and that “[a]according to those with whom we spoke, these relationships help break down barriers and eliminate preconceptions that each party has of the other…if more industry members participated in such forums, confidence in fisheries science, understanding of management processes, and relationships with NOAA could improve.”

This initiative is also in keeping with the Memorandum of Understanding signed between GMRI and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) in June 2004 – to develop joint research, education, training, and extension programs to support the critical fishery research and management needs of the Northeast region and U.S. East Coast – and is aimed at achieving the NOAA Mission Goal to “protect, restore and manage the use of coastal and ocean resources through ecosystem-based management” by helping to create a “well-informed public that acts as a steward of coastal and marine ecosystems.” While educational in nature, the program fosters trust and improved communication between the Northeast regional office, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, and fishing industry members.