The New England Fishery Management Council plans to ask the federal government to suspend an at-sea monitoring program required of the region’s groundfish industry. The council voted this week to send that request to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA Fisheries requires that one out of every five fishing trips has a human being monitoring catch. At-sea monitors collect data on catch, bycatch, and fish thrown back to sea.
Beginning late August, NOAA Fisheries will no longer be able to pay for at-sea monitors.
“That is something that technically is the responsibility of fishermen to pay for,” said John Bullard, regional head of NOAA Fisheries, “but since it’s been a requirement for the last three to four years, and because the groundfish industry is not healthy, the federal government has picked up the cost.”
The federal government notified the council last year that fishermen would have to start paying for at-sea monitors. The Science Center at NOAA Fisheries can no longer pay for it, even though it would like to, said Bullard.
“And so industry is going to have to start paying for it at the end of August,” said Bullard. “Now, industry is not able to pick it up, because they are not financially in a position to do so. So there’s a real problem that’s going to come to a head at the end of August.”
That’s why the regional fishery management council voted to ask for an emergency action not to require monitoring for the rest of the fishing year.
“While this is an option that we had considered, we don’t think it’s a good policy to eliminate monitors because we think monitors are necessary for various reasons,” said Bullard.
Bullard said eliminating at-sea monitor will affect accountability. He added emergency actions “are called for when it’s an emergency that takes you by surprise. This is not a surprise.
"This is something that the council has known about for at least six months or so,” said Bullard, “and so we don’t think it meets the legal or technical requirement of an emergency action.”
Bullard said NOAA Fisheries will review the request when it receives the council’s letter.
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