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Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance

Case Authors

Dave Gershman, Julia Wondolleck and Steven Yaffee, University of Michigan


The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) is a non-profit that advocates for community- and ecosystem-based management of the Gulf of Maine groundfishery which is under stress from overfishing and ever-tightening regulatory controls.

In 1995, a small group of regional fishermen and fishing community advocates agreed on the need to develop new approaches to fisheries management. These conversations grew into NAMA which was incorporated as an independent, non-profit organization in 1998.

NAMA uses a variety of strategies to build local markets for local fishermen, enhance understanding and cooperation among fishermen and scientists and build consensus in fishing communities for policies that would create sustainable fisheries and viable businesses for fishermen.

In 2005, NAMA organized a series of workshops to develop a consensus-based vision for the future of the groundfishing fleet. The following year, NAMA paired fishermen with scientists to create the report, “Ecosystem Relationships in the Gulf of Maine.”

Recognizing the interconnectedness of the ecosystem, NAMA is broadening its focus area to incorporate the waters along the eastern Canadian coast and consider the impacts of land-based pollution and climate change on the Gulf of Maine fisheries.


MEBM Attributes

  • Scale: Focus on improving the ecosystem of the Gulf of Maine in order to improve the fishery, and advocacy for considering the impact of pollution and other stressors in the creation of fishery management policies.
  • Collaboration: Seeking to develop consensus on the future of the groundfish fleet.
  • Complexity: Seeking to base management policies on sound science.

Mission and Primary Objectives


The mission of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance is to restore and enhance an enduring marine system supporting a healthy diversity and an abundance of marine life and human uses through a self-organizing and self-governing organization.


The following objectives have been established:

  • To transform the market for seafood toward one that is locally based and supports local, small-scale fishermen and fishing communities.
  • To transform decision-making processes and policies toward ones that are grounded in the fishing communities, and are based on sound science and the need for a healthy marine ecosystem.
  • To transform management decisions towards those that are nimbly adaptive to changing environments and are based on principles of precautionary action.
  • To transform the audience paying attention to ocean issues to one that reaches farmers, consumers, and advocates of local food production.
  • To transform fisheries management policies to include the impact of persistent pollutants and climate change on rebuilding our marine resources.

Key Parties

Lead Organizations

The individuals who founded the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance included:

  • Commercial fishermen
  • Members of the Conservation Law Foundation
  • Marine researchers at the University of New Hampshire

Key Parties

The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance is a member of the national Marine Fish Conservation Network and has received financial support from numerous partners, including:

  • The Island Institute
  • LEF Foundation
  • Marine Community Foundation
  • Penobscot East Resources Center
  • Surdna Foundation
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • T. Rowe Price Program for Charitable Giving

NAMA also partners with other organizations on specific projects, including the Cape Ann Farmer’s Market, a partner in its “Seafood Throwdown” event in Gloucester, Mass.


Program Structure

Board of Trustees

The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) is governed by a Board of Trustees. The trustees include leaders of a lobsterman’s association, an advocate for community- and ecosystem-based fisheries, a marine anthropologist, a commercial fisherman, and an environmental scientist.

Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance Staff

NAMA staff include a coordinating director, science and policy coordinator, community organizer and policy advocate, and development marketing and outreach associate.


Motivations for Initiating Effort

Following the collapse of the New England groundfishery in the mid-1990s, more stringent regulations were enacted to end overfishing and rebuild stocks. Fishermen believed the regulations would not lead to improvements in the ecosystem and would make it impossible for them to maintain viable businesses.

A legal framework was adopted that specifically called for the end of overfishing. Environmental organizations were pressing for the full and timely implementation of the framework, which was described in the 1997 Congressional reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which had been modified by the Sustainable Fisheries Act.

As a result, resource managers were required to end overfishing by 2010 through the adoption of several measures, including reductions on by-catch, implementation of new data collection efforts, and the establishment of annual total allowable catch standards for certain species. For species that met a regulatory definition of being overfished, which included cod, the total annual catch had to be low enough to allow stocks to rebuild within a decade.

Landings in New England did decrease. Communities that once had strong fishing traditions no longer had fishing boats working out of their harbors. However, fishermen and regulators continued to disagree over how many vessels the fishery could sustainably support.

Effective, May 2010, The New England Fishery Management Council gave groundfishermen the option to free themselves from certain restrictions on where they can fish, how they can fish, and when they can fish by joining collectively-managed sectors. A pilot effort had started through the efforts of fishermen based on Cape Cod.


Ecosystem Characteristics and Threats

The Ecosystem

The Gulf of Maine is an enclosed coastal sea characterized by varieties of water temperature, depths, and salinity. The focus area of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance includes the continental shelf and slope ecosystems along the East Coast, between the Labrador Sea and Cape Hatteras, located in waters that are under the jurisdiction of Canada and the United States.

A variety of terrain, including deep basins, spires, ledges, shoals and bottoms of different compositions, supported a productive and rich ecosystem that contained great numbers of commercially-important species. Shrimp and lobster were found in abundance, as well as finfish such as cod, flounder, and herring. Large whales fed on the plankton found in the basins.


Although the Gulf of Maine once served as a highly productive fishing ground, overfishing and harmful fishing practices decimated groundfish populations by the mid-1990s. Spawning aggregations had been targeted. Discarded by-catch included juvenile groundfish. Although cod spawning biomass has increased in portions of the Gulf of Maine, populations remain low relative to historic levels.


Major Strategies

Market Development and Community Awareness

NAMA is trying to raise public awareness and support for local fishermen. Among the efforts are:

  • Advocacy for community-supported fisheries, through the NAMA Web site, which contains informational tools for fishermen to set up community-sponsored fisheries, including sample contracts and contact information for regulatory authorities. The Web site also steers consumers to community supported fisheries near their homes. Members of a community-supported fishery typically pay a fee before the fishing season, providing some financial certainty to fishermen. Members then receive a regular volume of seafood during the season.
  • Organizing “Seafood Throwndowns” in several communities on the Massachusetts coast. The public, community-driven events are educational cooking competitions that promote the ecological and economic importance of locally-caught food. The first event was held in Gloucester, Mass. in 2008.

Fishing Community Development

Several ongoing efforts and focused projects to build community and consensus among fishing community members and advocates have been undertaken, including the following:

  • The Fish Locally Collaborative, which brings together local fishermen, fishing families, community-focused marine social scientists and fisheries advocates. The group acts as a forum to unite the fishing community behind the recovery and maintenance of marine biodiversity through community-based fisheries.
  • The Fleet Visioning Project, held in 2005, engaged a range of coastal stakeholders to develop a consensus-based vision for the future of the groundfishing fleet. Mailings were sent to the holders of the 7,000 groundfish permits in the region, inviting them to answer a survey. About 250 people responded, and about 65 respondents participated in one of the 10 visioning workshops held across the region. A final workshop codified the following statement as a vision for the community: “A diverse, economically viable, and environmentally sustainable fleet that is managed through a participatory governance structure.”

To avoid being perceived as a stakeholder with an agenda in developing the vision, NAMA engaged an external panel of individuals to select a project director who would manage the project as a separate entity, funded by NAMA. The project director established a steering committee to reflect the fishing industry’s diversity, engage multiple networks, and guide the project.

  • “The Ecosystem Relationships in the Gulf of Maine,” a collaborative report by NAMA, Coastal Ocean Observing Center at the University of New Hampshire and the Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System, was developed in 2005 and 2006 through day-long workshops that paired researchers with long-time fishermen. The report discusses seasonal cycles of the Gulf of Maine, the distribution of commercially-important species, and the varieties of habitats. It was developed to support ecosystem-based management by providing a fuller view of the marine system.


NAMA advocates for policies before fishery regulators that would support ecosystem-based management. It also supports marine conservation plans and programs to restore habitats and rebuilding populations that account for the impact of climate change.


Monitoring, Assessment and Evaluation

Monitoring, assessment and evaluation programs are not formally established within the scope of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance. 

However, for several years the organization received funding to publish “Collaborations,” a monthly report on collaborations between the Northeast Consortium and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Cooperative Research Partnership Initiative to fund collaborative research projects in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank.

Two references guides also were produced that offered abstracts, funding levels and contract information.



Community Building

The Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) built relationships among fishermen and scientists, and among varied fishermen in the New England region. The vision for the groundfish fleet represents a consensus that can be used as a guide for resource managers. It successfully bridged divides among stakeholders and facilitated collaboration. Additionally NAMA reported that fishermen who attended the workshops felt empowered, and made commitments to be more engaged in policy discussions. Meanwhile, “Seafood Throwdowns” and efforts to facilitate community-supported fisheries are building relationships between the fishing community and the consumer.

Website Links

Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance: