The U.S. Fisheries Conservation and Management Act was designed to control the exploitation of commercial marine species. However, during the first two years after this act went into effect in New England in 1977, the overall economic and regulatory environment sent fishermen a mixed set of signals. Some factors, including aspects of regulation, stimulated expansion of the groundfishing fleet; others had the opposite effect. Two surveys indicated fishermen were very unhappy with the regulations and believed federal regulation would drive them out of business and lead to the demise of the industry. However, a study of the fleet uncovered the fact that fishermen were purchasing bigger, more versatile boats equipped with more sophisticated electronic gear. In addition, the number of groundfishing boats increased dramatically. Regulations were only one of a number of factors influencing the decisions of fishermen. The age of the fleet, increased catches and prices for fish, the increase in competition due to the quota regulations themselves, and the economic difficulties in other fisheries all played a role. The fact that regulation helped to produce a fleet with more capacity to exploit fish stocks raises some key questions about ways to generate effective, equitable resource management policies.

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