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Returning To Work, NOAA Employees Wade Through Backlog Of Paperwork

Uncertainty about how long the federal government will stay open is putting pressure on fishing regulators. They’re returning to work after lawmakers reached a deal to fund the government through February 15th.

A backlog of unprocessed permits greeted federal fishing regulators coming back to work at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week.

Atlantic Regional Fisheries administrator Michael Pentony spoke to the New England Fishery Management Council Tuesday. He said approving commercial fishing permits is his team’s top priority, in case lawmakers don’t reach a permanent deal to keep the government open.

There is at least a chance, hopefully a very, very small chance, but a chance, that we’ll be facing another shutdown in mid-February. That puts even more pressure on us to prioritize things like vessel permits… things that will allow people to continue to fish,” Pentony said.

The backlog of work, combined with uncertainty about how long the agency will be remain open, is putting pressure on NOAA staff, he added.

“Our staff are overwhelmed, they’re stressed, and they’ve got to do a lot of work just to figure out where to be and what to prioritize.” Pentony said.

According to Pentony, the agency especially needs to catch up on scientific permits, individual fishing quota transfers, and fishing vessel permit renewals.  

Pentony said, That was the thing that was really keeping me up at night, as the shutdown dragged on and on with no end in sight there for a while, that come March 1st our vessel permits start to expire."

Prioritizing permits means other regulatory jobs may be delayed, including finalizing the Framework 58 revised catch limits on cod, haddock, and flounder for the 2019 fishing season. 

Boats docked in New Bedford.
Boats docked in New Bedford.