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Has fishing effort changed in amount, timing, or where it occurs?

Indicator: Fishing Effort

Short Answer: Fishing effort of large vessels appears to have shifted from offshore into coastal areas after the catch share program began. More detailed analysis of changes in fishing effort was not possible with available data.

Key Findings

  • Observed fishing activity on larger vessels shifted into nearshore regions during the catch share period, increasing their overlap with small vessels.
  • Fine-grained analysis of effort and location of fishing was not possible due to the inability to identify fishing activities based on VMS data.
  • Future collaborative work between  NOAA and fishing stakeholders will be needed to assess how changes in fishing regulations altered the location of bottom-contact fishing effort.

Interactive Chart Story


This indicator measures spatial shifts in fishing effort based on data collected by at-sea observers.


In general, when fishery management programs transition from days-at-sea to sector-allocated quotas, there may be changes in the total amount of fishing effort, the timing of fishing activity, and where fishing occurs. In the Northeast groundfish fishery, the number of active vessels and the number of trips both declined after the catch share program began in 2010 (Number of Active Vessels).

In an effort to determine whether there were also changes in where fishing occurred, we sought to analyze location data from vessel monitoring systems (VMS). Limitations of the VMS data, however, made it difficult to determine the types of fishing activity that were occurring. For each trip included in the VMS data, the vessel’s captain had declared the sector, target species, and gear types. However, those declarations were too inaccurate to attribute VMS points to specific types of fishing activity, such as largemesh trawl fishing or scallop dredging. Vessel trip reports can provide more reliable data but were unavailable for this analysis. Consequently, we were not able to make detailed conclusions about how the catch share program affected locations of fishing effort in the Northeast multispecies fishery.

We were able to look broadly at spatial patterns of fishing effort in offshore and coastal waters for small versus large fishing vessels by using data collected by at-sea observers (Observer Coverage). For trips on which an at-sea observer was present, each tow was assigned to one of several statistical fishing areas.

Small vessels: Generally, most observed fishing effort of small vessels occurred in coastal statistical areas, and this pattern did not change under the catch share program.  During the baseline period, an average of 83 percent of annual observed trawl tows were coastal, compared to 87 percent following implementation of the catch share program.

Large vessels: For large vessels, there was a much more pronounced shift of observed effort into the coastal areas.  An average of only 6 percent of annual effort occurred in coastal areas during the baseline period, and then it increased to an average of 21 percent during the catch share program, with a high of 29 percent in 2013.

Given that these fishing effort data were from observed trips only, and only an average of 22 percent of trips were observed following implementation of the catch share program (Observer Coverage), we cannot state with certainty that this apparent change represents a broader shift.  However, it supports the notion that there was increased competition in the coastal areas between small and large vessels.

Updated: August 2018

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