Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2017

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Marine Biology


Teresa R. Johnson

Second Committee Member

Keith S. Evans

Third Committee Member

Christine M. Beitl

Additional Committee Members

Larry G. Harris


Maine’s sea urchin resource has provided a critical source of income and cultural value to resource harvesters across the state, yet in the absence of adequate governance mechanisms, the urchin resource quickly succumbed to overharvest and persisting stock decline. Following collapse, the urchin fishery transitioned to an advisory co-management system characterized by increased collaboration between urchin harvesters and resource managers. As collaborative dialogue and decision-making continue, fishery participants are collectively envisioning a more sustainable future for this important natural resource.

This master’s thesis explores Maine’s urchin fishery as a complex and coupled social-ecological system (SES) and documents harvester and scientist perspectives on urchin conservation and management. Researchers adopted a multi-phase and sequential mixed-methods research approach. The first phase of research began with ethnographic fieldwork that consisted of semi-structured, key informant interviews, document analysis of archived co-management meeting minutes, and participant observation during the Cat Ledges Restoration Project (CLRP), a harvester-led ledge restoration effort. Findings from this first phase of research were then used to inform the development of a structured questionnaire that was distributed to licensed urchin harvesters during a second research phase.

Chapter 1 examines Maine’s sea urchin fishery as a case study of scale mismatch enabling widespread resource decline and critically explores a number of efforts aimed at achieving finer-scale and more sustainable urchin management. Researchers drew from Ostrom’s social-ecological systems framework to identify specific variables that enable or impede a successful transition to fine-scale management in Maine’s coastal zone. Findings highlight the importance of reflecting on management strategies in light of key actor and resource characteristics within a coupled SES and furthermore, point to harvester-led restoration efforts as compelling examples of small-scale adaptive governance that harbor potential for resolving urchin fishery scale mismatch.

Chapter 2 examines the findings from the Maine Sea Urchin Industry Survey which researchers distributed to all licensed urchin harvesters (n=297) in September 2016. A total of 43 questionnaires were returned and analyzed for descriptive statistics. Findings provide valuable insight into harvester perspectives in this changing fishery and additionally, clarify areas of emerging industry consensus and persisting contention which could benefit from further deliberation. Findings illustrate that the majority of survey respondents were displeased with urchin management and perceived declines in the health of the urchin resource. Consistent with these perceptions, most respondents opposed increasing catch limits, supported increasing penalties for violations, and supported the incorporation of proactive conservation and restoration measures in the fishery, including urchin relocation, reseeding, and farming. In contrast, harvesters expressed conflicting opinions on opening entry and employing an apprenticeship program in the fishery.

The findings presented in this thesis ultimately attest to the important role that harvester knowledge and participation play in resolving scale mismatch and enhancing the governance of this complex and coupled SES. Lastly, this research may prove useful for informing continued management decision-making and the ongoing development of an urchin Fishery Management Plan.