Communities at Sea

For the first time, ocean users can link important information like critical fishing grounds and home ports to reduce conflict and maximize benefits for one of America’s greatest natural resources.

The Challenge:

Fishing is still the foundation for many coastal communities along the Mid-Atlantic. But in an increasingly busy ocean with bigger ships and busier routes as well as new enterprises like wind energy, it became clear that permitting agencies would need to cast a much wider net in their planning and assessment efforts. Examining the impacts of a proposal by reaching out to the nearest state was inadequate when the fishermen most affected could hail from further south or even Canada. It was a challenge that would need shared data, technology innovation and a common-sense approach called ocean planning.


The Process:

Using a methodology developed by Dr. Kevin St. Martin of Rutgers University, the team from the Mid-Atlantic Data Portal gathered research and developed maps to create data-rich layers called Communities at Sea for the open-access site. It linked Federal Vessel Trip Report information with fishing vessel permit data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Northeast Fisheries Science Center, which was compiled by the Rutgers Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis so that trip location could be used to identify heavily fished areas. Commercial fishermen were consulted throughout the Mid-Atlantic region to ensure maps accurately reflected industry activity. NOAA also worked to aggregate individual data to ensure exact fishing locations would not be exposed ensuring fishermen’s “secret spots” stayed that way. This combined data created perhaps the most-comprehensive overview of our fishing communities out on the ocean.


The Results:

Communities at Sea is a powerful tool available to all ocean users from decision-makers in agencies like NOAA to entrepreneurs like wind developers and commercial fishermen. Anyone interested in learning about how and where fishermen do their work can dive into these never-before-developed maps on the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal. When combined with other commercial fishing data layers, planners can analyze a specific location for the type of fish being caught and from what home port fishermen are located. Planners can also identify what gear type is being used in a specific area so that connections with potentially affected fishermen can be visualized and appropriate outreach conducted.


The maps help ensure a regional approach to understanding the cumulative impacts of how we use and develop our ocean. It helps to put the needs of fishing communities in focus. We now have a tool that plays an important role in not only reducing conflicts but also increasing win-win opportunities that benefit all those who depend on our ocean.

Learn More:

Read the full case study here

Read about supporters in the commercial fishing industry here