Fourteen community fishing associations from Maine to Alaska have banded together to start the national Community Fisheries Network (www.communityfisheriesnetwork.org).

The founding member organizations, ranging in size from 5 to 35 fishermen, commit to practice "environmental stewardship in their local waters and to pursue the highest standards of community engagement, financial accountability and transparency, and economic development," and plan to promote their brand of sustainable, "community-caught" fish in local and regional marketplaces.

"Strong community groups are the key to well-managed fish stocks and healthy working waterfronts across the country," says Linda Behnken, head of the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association, one of the network's charter groups, in a release announcing the new network. "Today, we're banding together to share experience and knowledge. We will be working toward positive change in national fisheries policy that recognizes and supports sustained participation by community-based fishermen in coastal fisheries."

Glen Libby, president of Port Clyde Fresh Catch, also one of the charter members, says, "It's very exciting to be working with this many groups of like-minded fishermen from communities all over the country and to realize that we have so much in common. We are fortunate to have been presented with this opportunity to learn from each other and we look forward to a long-term collaboration."

The network is forming in response to the industry's consolidation into fewer and fewer hands, both in the fishing and the processing arenas, and the resulting economic impacts on smaller fishing communities. According to the new network, much of that consolidation is encouraged by policies set by regional fisheries councils and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"The fisheries that are successful in the long run demonstrate a deep sense of stewardship by the people working the water - that's true in the developed world, as well as the developing world," says Ed Backus, vice president for fisheries at Ecotrust, a co-convener of the Community Fisheries Network. "Having strong community fishing organizations is the best way to nurture and strengthen that connection between people and place."

Heather Deese, vice president for programs at the Island Institute, a co-convener and member of the network, says, "The Community Fisheries Network was spawned by fishermen and their friends and supporters in communities across the country facing similar issues. The network members are deeply committed to doing whatever it takes to keep fish stocks healthy for the long term so that there will be jobs for local fishermen and seafood for the nation, next year and in 50 years."

The charter members of the Communities Fisheries Network are: Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association, Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Cape Cod Fisheries Trust/Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association, Cape Cod Development Partnership, Maine Coast Fishermen's Association, Calendar Island Maine Lobster Company, Penobscot East Resource Center, Port Clyde Fresh Catch, Port Orford Ocean Resources Team, San Diego Fishermen's Working Group, Port of Morro Bay, California, San Francisco Community Fishing Association, Island Institute and Ecotrust.