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Charting Vessel Owner Costs for Commercial Fishing in the Northeast

December 29, 2022

New tool helps people see and better understand trends and patterns in commercial fishing business costs in Northeast fisheries.

Moored fishing vessels in a calm harbor.

If you are tracking your household costs, you probably have a spreadsheet to record monthly expenses by category: food, transportation, utilities, housing, insurance, and so on. These days it's pretty easy to turn those numbers into a chart or a graph to give you a bird’s-eye view of change over time. Our social scientists have done the same for commercial vessel cost data for three different years across multiple expense categories and gear types. The information is now available in a new, online data visualization tool.

Pictures Sometimes Better than Numbers Alone

Until now, these data were only available in table form, published in a technical report. Tammy Murphy, chief of our center's Social Science Branch said that this data visualization tool is a “faster, more accessible way to distribute information than a report alone. The cost information is presented by vessel gear group and cost category. For many, this is a more appealing format than tables in a technical report. Vessel owners can use this tool, along with their own costs records, to see how their costs compare to other vessels in their gear group.”

The tool displays data from surveys that our center conducted among vessel owners for 2011, 2012, and 2015 costs. In 2023, our center will launch a new and improved version of the survey. These surveys are the only direct source of vessel cost data in the region. We need them to develop economic analyses that inform commercial fishing regulations and policies.

A Small Step, With Plans for Future Expansion

The dataset is still relatively small. But the economists behind the tool, Samantha Werner and Greg Ardini, expect it will grow in the coming years as more owners contribute their information. With more data, the team hopes to add more gear categories and explore additional display options. For example, there is currently no trip cost component, but the team plans to develop one as the project continues. Werner and Ardini will continue to work closely with tool developer Tanya Noteva to maintain and expand this resource.

“We need user feedback to improve this tool,” said Ardini, “so we added an easy way to contact us through the website.” Currently, the tool displays cost information in 19 categories, including:

  • Total Repair/Maintenance
  • Equipment
  • Gear
  • Vessel insurance
  • Mooring and permit application fees
  • Total overhead costs
  • Total payments to crew and hired captains

The tool can also filter this information by gear groups:

  • Dredge
  • Gillnet
  • Handgear
  • Pot and trap
  • Trawl

Our social scientists worked with fishery managers and fishing industry members as they developed this tool. “We hope it increases the visibility of the survey and encourages more vessel owners to participate in the future,” said Werner.

2023 Survey in the Works

The 2023 cost survey will be shorter and require less effort for participants than in the past. In addition to being able to complete the survey online or by mail, respondents can now also complete the survey by phone or by virtual interview.

“Every piece of additional data improves the effectiveness of the online tool as well as our ability to inform management decisions,” said Werner.

Participation in the survey is voluntary, and individual responses and participation are confidential. The survey data collected will be summarized to protect confidentiality and then added to the visualization tool for use on the website.

If you have any questions or suggestions on improving the cost web tool, please contact Samantha Werner or Greg Ardini.

Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on January 06, 2023

Socioeconomic Monitoring