Fishing boat in Gloucester, Massachusetts

Thanks to a partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal, dozens of maps now available on the Northeast Ocean Data Portal make it possible to see which areas of the ocean off New England are most important to different fishing communities.

The Communities at Sea maps can help focus and guide essential engagement and consultation with fishing communities for a range of ocean planning, permitting, and management decision-making processes. For example, when an activity or project is being considered for a specific location in the ocean off New England, the Communities at Sea maps can be used to see which fishing communities could be most affected, enabling stakeholder engagement and impacts analyses to focus on those communities.

Communities at Sea maps were produced using methods developed by Dr. Kevin St. Martin at Rutgers University. By integrating Vessel Trip Report (VTR) and permit information, scientists from Rutgers and NOAA created a new database that links fishing port communities to the places at sea where they spend the most time. The VTR and permit datasets were carefully screened and aggregated by NOAA before maps were made so that the fishing activity of individual vessels would not be revealed.

Two types of Communities at Sea maps are available: regional maps and port-specific maps. Both types can be viewed on the Commercial Fishing Theme Map by clicking on the Communities at Sea button or on the Data Explorer by clicking on Commercial Fishing and then Communities at Sea (then click Analyze Communities at Sea to view port-specific maps).

Select “Ports” in dropdown menu to see port locations for each gear type and time period

REGIONAL MAPS
Regional maps show where fishing occurred with different gear types—bottom trawl, dredge, gillnet, longline, or pots and traps—including vessels from all ports, during five-year periods beginning in 1996. Bottom trawl data are shown separately for vessels smaller or larger than 65 feet. Colors indicate the relative importance of fishing areas for each gear type during the selected time period. The Communities at Sea regional maps complement the two other types of regional fishing activity maps available on the Portal—Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data and Automatic Identification System (AIS) data—by showing activity based on gear type and over a longer time period.

These examples show relative levels of bottom trawl activity (vessels less than 65 feet) and gillnet activity for vessels from all ports during 2011 to 2015. 

All Ports:
Bottom Trawl (<65 ft) (2011-2015)

All Ports:
Gillnet (2011-2015)

PORT-SPECIFIC MAPS
The port-specific maps maps show the most important fishing areas for vessels associated with a selected port. An outlined area on the map represents where vessels from that port conducted 90 percent of their fishing activity with a selected gear type.

These examples show the areas identified as important for vessels that fished with dredges during 2011 to 2015 and were associated with either New Bedford, Massachusetts, or Stonington, Connecticut. 

Dredge fishing areas: New Bedford, MA (2011-2015)

Dredge fishing areas: Stonington, CT (2011-2015)

For each fishing community, the maps can be used to compare the areas that were fished using different gears. On the Data Explorer map, multiple Communities at Sea map layers can be selected and displayed at the same time, like in this example showing areas that vessels associated with Port Clyde, Maine, fished with either dredge or bottom trawl (vessels less than 65 feet).

Dredge (red) and bottom trawl (blue) fishing areas: Port Clyde, ME (2011-2015)

The Communities at Sea maps can also reveal how fishing locations change over time. This example shows where vessels from Barnstable, Massachusetts, fished with dredge gear during four time periods: 1996-2000, 2001-2005, 2006-2010, and 2011-2015.

Changes in dredge fishing areas for Barnstable, MA

The Communities at Sea maps were reviewed, discussed, and improved though meetings with commercial fishermen. Important caveats and considerations for understanding and interpreting the data can be viewed by clicking the “About This Map” link on the Communities at Sea Commercial Fishing Theme Map. For example, the maps are based on information from recent years and may not represent fishing areas that were historically important and could be again. Also, fishing patterns are driven by complex ecological, regulatory, and economic factors that can change from year to year. 

In the Data Explorer, the Communities at Sea data can be layered with other complementary types of data to provide rich detail about the region’s fishing communities and the ocean places they depend on.

Groundfish closure areas (green) and bottom trawl fishing areas (blue) for Gloucester, MA, vessels less than 65 feet

More information about how the maps were developed and how to interpret them is available in Creating Space for Community in Marine Conservation and Management: Mapping “Communities at Sea” by Kevin St. Martin (Rutgers) and Julia Olson (NOAA).