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Learning from Fishermen

models of fishing netsSmall models of different fishing nets help workshop attendees to see shape of net as it would look underwater. Credit: NH SeaGrant

About two dozen staff members from NOAA Fisheries’ Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO) recently made their way to New Hampshire’s coast to learn about the complexities of fishing gear from those who know it best: commercial fishermen.

The three-day workshop — organized by Gabby Bradt, a fisheries specialist at New Hampshire SeaGrant, and Ryan Silva, Research Coordinator with GARFO’s Sustainable Fisheries Division— took place on Sept. 26-28 at the Seacoast Science Center and aboard four commercial fishing vessels in New Hampshire.

On the first day of the workshop, New Hampshire fishermen David Goethel and Tom Lyons, along with Henry Milliken from NOAA Fisheries, provided background information about fishing gear and fish behaviors. A variety of fishing nets — some to scale, some full-sized — were laid out for closer examination and discussion. The workshop’s open forum style enabled both NOAA staff and the fishermen to ask plenty of questions.

gillnet gearDeploying gill net gear. Credit: NOAA

These discussions enabled fishermen and NOAA staff to talk together about issues of mutual concern. For example, Captain Dave Goethal noted that there are many factors, such as the size of the net’s mesh, the angle of the gear in the water, the tide cycle, and a host of other seemingly minor differences, that can add up to major changes that can impact how much fish is caught. He said that these topics need to be considered when managers craft regulations. “It’s definitely helpful to attend a workshop like this to see the basic gear design, see the scale of the gear and discuss how it works in different conditions,” Ryan Silva said. “We won’t be experts after this, but we’ll have a better understanding of what factors affect the gear selectivity for fish species,” he explained.

In addition, several local fishing captains hosted NOAA staff aboard their vessels to view first hand how fishing gear is deployed and how it acts in the water. Two days at sea enabled staff to see several gear types and ask questions about how the gear operates.

Overall, the workshop created opportunity for positive dialogue to occur between all parties. “It’s important for fishermen, scientists and fisheries managers to come together to share their knowledge and ideas,” said Erik Chapman, Acting Director for N.H. Sea Grant. “This workshop is a partnership between Sea Grant, NOAA Fisheries and fishermen to help move everyone forward and provide a hands-on learning experience.”