Date of Award

Winter 2015

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources and Environmental Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Christopher W Glass

Second Advisor

Kenneth J La Valley

Third Advisor

Julia Olson


This dissertation tests theories about catch share approaches to fishery management, examining their validity and limits relative to the Northeast groundfish sector program, and potentially modifies them in light of research outcomes. Participants of the groundfish fishery based in New Hampshire are the particular focus of research, but broader impacts are considered. Studies of this catch share program have been limited to date, and studies of catch share programs generally have focused on a particular dimension (e.g., biological, social, economic) rather than integrate across dimensions, despite increasing needs to do so for management. Here, six key aspects of fishing are investigated: fishing practices, social capital, bycatch, economic performance, safety, and well-being. Thus, this work is a novel contribution to the field of impact assessment research, both in its topic and scope. The primary research question is: How has the advent of catch shares impacted the Northeast commercial multispecies fishery, particularly in New Hampshire? This is answered through a case study that involved a mix of quantitative and qualitative approaches, using semi-structured interviews of 2 informants, including members of groundfish sectors, common pool members, former fishermen, and fish dealers. Although social research often involves a process of theory generation, in the case of the Northeast groundfish fishery, and catch share programs more generally, a number of theories have already emerged that are ripe for testing. It was hypothesized here that fishing under the control rules governing sectors has resulted in: more efficiency and flexibility for fishermen to decide where, when, and how to fish; greater social capital among fishermen; reduced bycatch; and improved economic performance, safety, and well-being. The groundfish fishermen of New Hampshire revealed that the theorized benefits of catch share programs do not necessarily hold true. Of the six key aspects of fishing investigated here, only the benefits related to fishing practices, bycatch and safety aligned with what has occurred in this local fishery, but even some of those benefits have qualifiers. The informants who were sector members generally felt that fishing in a sector was more efficient and flexible than the former Days-At-Sea program had been, generally due to shifting catch limits from a trip basis to an annual one. This had allowed more concentration of effort during times with greater potential for profitability (e.g., fish availability, favorable markets). Reducing bycatch was an important goal of the informants, and the sector participants indicated that their level of bycatch had decreased, primarily through eliminating the trip limits and discards of legal-sized fish. Some informants went above and beyond regulations to avoid bycatch in recognition of the need to steward stocks for the future. However, some sector members identified new pressures to discard when unobserved, driven largely by the high lease costs of choke stocks. There were no major changes in safety, because the informants largely strive to be safe no matter the management program. However, removal of trip limits for sector participants created flexibility and less pressure to fish in unsafe conditions. Theorized benefits for social capital, economic performance, and well-being did not hold true. Despite being a novel focal point for industry organization, informants felt that sectors have not been catalysts for social capital. Rather, sectors have been based on and built off of pre-existing social capital. In some cases, social capital was reduced as increased organizational responsibilities were seen as a burden and fishing became more competitive and secretive. Economic profitability and predictability had not been realized, though the concomitant decline in, and persistently low, catch limits for certain key species (e.g., cod, yellowtail flounder) vanquished any potential that catch shares had for the economic success of this fishery. The need to lease quota of constraining stocks to harvest the available fish in one’s own portfolio has been a substantial and new cost, with risky debt obligations, for several informants. Business predictability declined for a majority of informants. Catch shares has, however, transformed the business climate of the groundfish industry, with more focus on maximizing one’s utility. With declines in fishery participation, and dim potential for positive economic performance, the sense of well-being and future outlook for self and fishery had diminished since the advent of the catch share program. Job satisfaction decreased for most of the sector members, and a majority of all informants said that they would not advise a young person to enter fishing. The New Hampshire-based fishermen have, on the whole, not fared as well as could be assumed based on theory, exemplifying the consequences of catch shares, the potential for declining performance by those participants unable to adapt.