Marine Fisheries Research


Commercial fishermen speak at a CCS public forum

The goals of the Marine Fisheries Research program (CCSMFR) are to foster collaboration and understanding between fishermen and scientists and conduct cooperative research and education with a focus on scientific and policy issues confronting Provincetown and outer Cape fishermen and aquaculturists. The program is directed by Owen Nichols, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Massachusetts School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST).

There are many aspects of fisheries biology, ecology, and oceanography that are poorly understood and yet crucial to an accurate understanding of how fishing and other human activities affect the marine ecosystem and how best to manage fishing activity. The manner in which natural and anthropogenic variations in fisheries landings relate to one another and to biotic and abiotic factors is difficult to interpret without adequate data. Working together, fishermen can combine their skills and knowledge with the tools and techniques employed by scientists to conduct field research aimed at filling gaps in our knowledge and providing managers with sound science on which to base management decisions.

Outreach is being conducted among Provincetown and outer Cape fishermen and aquaculturists to define key issues and build the foundation for cooperative research partnerships. This effort was initially funded by Sailors’ Snug Harbor of Boston and the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank Charitable Foundation and has led to a variety of collaborative research projects.

Research Projects

Fisheries Resource Investigations in Pleasant Bay

Juvenile lobster

Juvenile lobster

Juvenile lobster habitat has been identified in Pleasant Bay, an estuarine system bordered by several Cape Cod towns. Using lobster settlement collectors provided by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and deployed by Ames Marine with support from the Friends of Pleasant Bay, CCS Marine Fisheries Research director Owen Nichols measured the number of tiny young-of-the-year lobsters that settled on the bottom over the summer, indicating that the Bay may be an important nursery ground.

Surveys of shellfish and finfish in Pleasant Bay are planned for 2015, as part of a larger project, “Assessment of the Environmental Diversity and Productivity of Pleasant Bay”, in collaboration with other CCS programs and supported by the Friends of Pleasant Bay.

Environmental Effects on Distribution of Squid and Finfish

Eldredge and Nichols haul weir - E Eldredge

Shannon Eldredge and Owen Nichols haul in weir. Photo by E. Eldredge.

Working with commercial weir fishermen in Chatham, Nichols is studying the effects of environmental variables on the distribution of longfin inshore squid (Doryteuthis pealeii). 

Understanding the responses of squid to temperature, oxygen, wind, and other factors has profound implications for the interpretation of abundance surveys and landings data, on which managers base decisions, as well as an understanding of the potential effects of climate change.

Monitoring in the weir fishery has continued for nearly a decade, and logbook and environmental data will be compared to historical data to assess changes in relationships between fisheries catches and environmental factors.  This project began as part of Nichols’ doctoral research at SMAST and has been supported by the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Institute and grants from the Norcross Wildlife Foundation/A.V. Stout Fund and the Sounds Conservancy/Quebec-Labrador Foundation.

Subtidal Shellfish Aquaculture

Macara and Baldwin UW shellfish survey

Shellfish farmers Rick Macara and John Baldwin conducting underwater surveys

In 2010, CCSMFR provided technical support to the Cape Cod towns of Truro and Provincetown in order to identify subtidal areas suitable for aquaculture development. Data were gathered on habitat type and existing uses and combined with sustainable aquaculture site selection criteria and the biological requirements of the species to be grown in order to map areas in the waters of each town that were designated as Aquaculture Development Areas, or ADAs, large enough to contain multiple grow-out sites for use by individual farmers. This effort was supported by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program.

In 2014, shellfish farmers in Provincetown and Truro began growing oysters in a 50-acre community subtidal aquaculture development area (ADA) in the nearshore waters of Cape Cod Bay. Oysters are being grown in bags on the bottom or in floating cages and other experimental techniques and species have been proposed for farming in the ADA. CCSMFR is partnering with the Marine Biological Laboratory, Maine Marine Composites, and shellfish farmers to develop methods to reduce the potential for entanglement of marine animals in floating aquaculture gear. This research is supported by the NOAA Saltonstall-Kennedy and Bycatch Reduction Engineering Programs.

Seal Interactions with Fisheries

Squid menhaden seal interaction

Squid and menhaden, partially eaten by seals

As local seal abundance increases, so does reporting of fishing gear depredation by seals and concern about the larger-scale ecological interaction (competition) between seals and commercial and recreational fisheries.

The perception of fishermen that significant ecological interaction occurs comes from declines in abundance of commercially exploited species and observations of depredation, during which seals directly remove target species from fishing gear. Depredation by seals is observed or reported in most Cape Cod fixed-gear fisheries. However, it is difficult to quantify the extent of these interactions and to determine if they represent significant competition on a scale greater than that of the area or gear fished. In collaboration with the commercial fishing industry, we are studying seal depredation of catch retained in fixed fishing gear. Fishermens’ observations are placed in a broader ecological context incorporating hypotheses regarding diet, foraging behavior and movement. Research on seal/fishery interactions is conducted in collaboration with a variety of partners, including fishermen, students, and the Northwest Atlantic Seal Research Consortium, and is supported by Sailors’ Snug Harbor of Boston.

Embryonic Development of Squid

Squid paralarva

Squid paralarva

An offshoot of Nichols’ dissertation research, CCSMFR’s inaugural project began in direct response to concerns of Nantucket Sound fishermen that squid eggs could be vulnerable to fishing gear before they hatch. Nichols is working with commercial fishermen to investigate the time of hatching and the association with environmental factors such as water temperature. Once the timing of hatching and associated conditions are determined, these data can be used to inform fishermen and managers and aid them in their decision-making process with respect to the manner in which fishing gear is deployed in spawning habitat.

When squid eggs hatch, the hatchlings, or paralarvae, become part of the plankton; learning how they behave will help us learn where they go post-hatching and to develop a broader understanding of the importance of inshore spawning grounds to the species.

This work has been funded by the Sounds Conservancy/Quebec-Labrador Foundation and the American Museum of Natural History.

Other Projects
The Marine Fisheries Research program is part of the Department of Ecology and works in collaboration with other CCS projects and programs, including the Marine Policy department and the Marine Debris program:

Marine Megavertebrates and Fishery Resources in the Nantucket Sound – Muskeget Channel Area

Outer Cape Derelict Gear Assessment and Retrieval Program

Future Directions
Program priorities for the coming years include development of novel approaches to reduce bycatch or entanglement via modified fishing and aquaculture gears, shellfish and finfish habitat studies with a focus on benthic ecology and oceanography of coastal and estuarine systems, and expanded research on environmental effects on marine species distribution and the associated implications for adaptation to climate change and fisheries management. Geographic scope of these projects will expand beyond Cape Cod to include the Gulf of Maine and beyond.


Bogomolni, A., G. Early, K. Matassa, O. Nichols, and L. Sette. 2010. Gulf of Maine seals– populations, problems and priorities. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Technical Report 2010-06.

Nichols, O. C. 2011. Involve fishermen from the start to build strong research partnerships. Commercial Fisheries News 38 (7): 24.

Nichols, O.C., A. Bogomolni, E. Bradfield, G. Early, L. Sette, and S. Wood. 2012. Gulf of Maine seals- fisheries interactions and integrated research. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Technical Report 2012-06.

Nichols, O.C., E. Eldredge, and S.X. Cadrin. 2014. Gray seal behavior in a fish weir observed using Dual-frequency Identification Sonar.  Marine Technology Society Journal 48(4): 72-78.

Nichols, O.C., H. Lind, J. Baldwin, A.R. Jackett, M. Borrelli, and P.A. Small, Jr. 2011. Site selection for sustainable aquaculture development areas: a practical mapping approach. Journal of Ocean Technology 6(3): 60-70.

Rodhouse, P.G.K., G.J. Pierce, O.C. Nichols, and 15 others. 2014. Environmental effects on cephalopod population dynamics: implications for management of fisheries. Advances in Marine Biology 67: 99-233.

For more information on this program and CCSMFR research projects email the director, Owen Nichols at