Fishermen from Martha’s Vineyard, Bar Harbor, Jonesport and Swan’s Island gathered last month for the inaugural meeting of members of the Northeast Coastal Communities Sector.

Over a 6 a.m. breakfast in Stonington, Me., the group elected a governing board and made plans for the opening of this year’s groundfishing season. This historic event heralds the possibility of landing sizeable amounts of groundfish in eastern Maine for the first time in almost 20 years.

Formed last fall, the Northeast Coastal Communities Sector is one of 17 new groundfish comanagement sectors working with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Sectors are a new federal management tool that allows fishermen to fish when they choose, in exchange for abiding by strict catch limits. The 20 Northeast Coastal Communities Sector members must also agree to protect the habitat by fishing with only hooks or traps and to take responsibility for each other’s behavior.

The group includes 12 fishermen from Maine, five from the Vineyard, two from Sandwich and one from Mastic, Long Island, N.Y.

Sector manager Aaron Dority said: “Sectors are not defined by geography. Martha’s Vineyard fishermen have much in common with our eastern Maine fishermen — they, too, have been marginalized by fishing regulations and the big commercial fishing fleets. And they share our conservation values and the vision of a sustainable fishery.”

Sector members are allocated fishing quota for the fishing year according to their catch history of all stock between 1996 and 2006. Not all the members will fish this season. Though localized depletion and strict regulations prevented most members from fishing during that decade, the NCCS Sector currently has an allocation of more than 360,000 pounds of fish that members will be licensed to catch, thanks to the quota attached to Penobscot East’s permit bank.

Legal-sized fish can be sold, and some of the fishermen will market their fresh catch directly to local consumers through the new groundfish community supported fishery beginning this May.

Swan’s Island sector member Jason Joyce observed: “When I was young, there were over a dozen fishermen on Swan’s actively catching groundfish, and today no one fishes commercially for groundfish anymore. This sector is our only opportunity to rebuild that fishery for my community.”

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