The Maine Fishermen’s Forum at the Samoset Resort in Rockport on March 2 provided an opportunity for the inaugural meeting of members of the Northeast Coastal Communities Sector. Fishermen from Martha’s Vineyard, Bar Harbor, Jonesport, and Swan’s Island gathered over a 6 a.m. breakfast to elect their governing board and plan for the opening of this year’s groundfishing season.

The Penobscot East Resource Center said the 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 and managed by Penobscot East Resource Center, Northeast Coastal Communities Sector is one of 17 new groundfish co-management 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 eastern Maine, five from Martha’s Vineyard, two from Sandwich on Cape Cod, Mass., and one from Mastic, Long Island, N.Y.

“Sectors are not defined by geography,” said NCCS manager Aaron Dority, in a news release. “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 size fish can be sold and Penobscot East expects that fishermen out of Stonington, Deer Isle and Jonesport will market their fresh catch directly to local consumers through the new groundfish community supported fishery beginning this May.

“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,” said Swan’s Island sector member Jason Joyce. “This sector is our only opportunity to rebuild that fishery for my community.”

For more information about the Northeast Coastal Communities Sector, the Penobscot East Resource Center’s Sentinel Fishery or the groundfish community supported fishery, contact Downeast Groundfish Initiative Director Aaron Dority at aaron@penobscoteast.org or 367-2708.