What is a Sector?

A sector, or a “harvest cooperative,” is a group of fishermen who have joined together to promote the community-based management of their particular fishery under the overarching governance of the federal government. A sector is also known as a harvest cooperative, a concept that has proven successful in other industries such as farming and textiles.

In a sector, the fishermen themselves determine how their sector will operate, which includes issues of management, monitoring, reporting, and catch allocation. Each sector drafts and submits an Operations Plan and these operating guidelines become a binding legal contract between the sector and the federal government, which serves primarily as a permitting agency and auditor. In many ways, sectors shift the responsibilities and costs of federal fisheries management from the federal government to local fishing communities. Today’s sectors in the Northeast multispecies groundfish fishery generally report to NOAA Fisheries on a weekly basis and are monitored at-sea monitors and observers.

More formally, the New England Fishery Management Council defines a sector as a “group of persons holding limited access vessel permits who have voluntarily entered into a contract and agree to certain fishing restrictions for a specified period of time, and which has been given a Total Allowable Catch (“TAC”) in order to achieve objectives consistent with a Fishery Management Plan’s goals and objectives.” The TAC will dictate how much fish the sector can harvest in a given year. To receive a TAC from the federal government, the sector must comply with numerous procedural requirements such as the development of an environmental impact assessment, Operations Plan and sector contract that delineates how the TAC will be managed and, of paramount importance, allocated among sector members.

For more information on sector management in the northeast, please visit NOAA Fisheries Service.

Northeast Fishery Sectors

In April 2007, NSC submitted requests to establish 12 new groundfish sectors to the New England Fishery Management Council (“Council”) on behalf of federally-permitted groundfish fishermen.

A total of 17 sectors were approved for the 2010 fishing year (beginning May 1, 2010), which encompassed about 85 percent of the groundfish fleet in the Northeast.  For fishing year 2013, 19 sectors have been authorized. Sectors are self-selecting groups of groundfish permit holders and each sector receives an Annual Catch Entitlement (ACE) or an annual total allowable commercial groundfish catch for each species in the Multispecies Fishery Management Plan.  Each sector is able to carry forward up to 10 percent of unused ACE for applicable stocks that can be used during the next fishing year.  Also, sector ACE can be transferred between sectors, which enables sectors to lease what they will not fish or need in exchange for compensation or a trade for another stock they expect to land.

A Potential Sector Contribution (PSC) is calculated for each permit eligible to join a sector.  The ‘catch share’ allocated to a given sector is based on the potential sector contributions, or PSCs, associated with the individual groundfish permits held by the permit holders comprising the sector—it is, essentially, the sum of the catch quotas associated with the individual permits.

NSC organized 12 of the groundfish ‘sectors’ (Northeast Fishery Sectors 2-13) that became operational on May 1, 2010.  Of the 12 NSC-organized sectors, nine operate out of ports in Massachusetts, two out of ports in New Hampshire, and one out of ports in Rhode Island.  Each sector is an independent non-profit 501(c)(5) organization with distinct leadership and boards of directors.  All members of the twelve Northeast Fishery Sectors are members of the Northeast Seafood Coalition.

NSC did not organize the 12 sectors because it was a proponent of sectors; it did so because, in the period 2008-2010, the only viable option under regulatory development was the sector management system.  In organizing sectors under the rules that became effective in 2010 (Amendment 16 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan), NSC sought to create metaphoric lifeboats for its members so they could continue to be part of the fishery that they love, and to which they have contributed so much.   Amendment 16 sectors are a stop-gap measure in the difficult march to a well-managed, robust, and rebuilt fishery.

NSC’s position on Sectors

The Northeast Seafood Coalition has never been an advocate for sectors.  NSC organized sectors only when it became clear that the Council had before it no other remotely tenable option for the hundreds of fishing businesses that are members of NSC.  NSC characterizes the sectors it organized as “lifeboats” designed to save industry members from perishing in storms created by ten-year rebuilding requirements and constantly shifting assessment science.

Sectors are a decidedly mixed bag. They were the only potentially viable option for most groundfish businesses, and yet they are a barely viable option.  They bring some flexibility in fishing operations and they unshackle vessels from the clock.  But, allocations (which, technically, are not allocations) were made through a formula which left many unable to fish without acquiring additional quota from others.  The good that sectors brought – some flexibility and a release from the clock – applies to all vessels in sectors.  The ill they brought – unworkable allocations for many – was not confined to vessels of any particular size, but was visited upon vessels of all sizes (and of all classes, gears, and locales).

Northeast Sector Service Network

Established in 2011, the Northeast Sector Services Network (“NESSN”) is an independent, neutral service provider that offers member sectors essential technical support and guidance relating to fulfilling their obligations under the sector program.  The goal of NESSN is to utilize economies of scale for necessary services and needs of sectors in order to foster an efficient and economically viable sector management system.  Specific examples of services provided to NEF Sectors by NESSN include:

  • Training, support, coordination and resource for NEF Sector Managers.
  • Coordination among sectors in preparing annual documents required for continuing sector authorization including operations plans, exemption requests and justifications, and annual reports that summarize activities of sectors.
  • Maintenance and continued development of FishTrax.  FishTrax is a multifaceted software program that is utilized by NEF Sectors to facilitate completion of the regulatory required weekly fishing and leasing activity reports.  Additionally it provides each member of an NEF Sector the ability to verify online where they stand individually with their harvest share usage.
  • Coordinate with NEF Sectors on solicitation, review and selection of monitoring providers
  • Coordinate regulatory and/or policy initiatives with the Northeast Seafood Coalition on matters of importance to member sectors such as changes to sector related regulations.