NEFMC’s increased monitoring consideration raises concerns among fishermen

Published on
September 29, 2020

The New England Fishery Management Council is considering the adoption of a new rule that would require the expansion of current monitoring mandates.

The new rulemaking, called Groundfish Monitoring Amendment 23, has been in process for over two years and is intended to overhaul the way groundfish monitoring takes place. The council had been seeking comments on the new amendment over the summer, and is now considering the implementation of the new rules.

Fishing groups have been expressing concern about the new rules, mainly related to adding any additional costs to the already cash-strapped industry. COVID-19 has disrupted the livelihoods of many fishermen, and the Northeast Seafood Coalition sent a letter expressing its concern that the monitoring costs will add yet another burden.

“The cost of monitoring has fallen on the industry since 2012, but federal funds have been available to offset costs. There is widespread concern that federal funds currently available to offset these costs will not be reliably available in the future,” the coalition wrote.

The sector is particularly concerned that the council will select a 100 percent at-sea monitoring option, which will cause smaller boats to be priced out of the industry, the coalition wrote.

“The expected costs to small boat fishermen has the potential to be so great that the Northeast Seafood Coalition is worried that it would ‘re-engineer the fleet,’ as it stated in a letter to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, and reduce the number of participants in the fishery,” the coalition wrote.

The Associated Fisheries of Maine also objected to the idea that 100 percent monitoring of the groundfish catch is needed.

“The groundfish sector program is the most accountable fishery in the Northeast,” Associated Fisheries of Maine wrote. “The sectors are subject to the highest level of monitoring (for 10-plus years) of any fishery, provide management with weekly catch reporting, account for discards on observed and unobserved trips, have self-imposed conservation restrictions that go beyond those mandated by the fishery management plan, investigate and punish non-compliance by participants, and are subject to both scientific and management uncertainty buffers in setting catch limits.”

The concern regarding the potential costs at-sea monitoring could place on fishermen was great enough that the subject came up in a listening session with U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-California) that was intended to get additional comments in preparation for the reauthorization of the Magnusson-Stevens Act.

Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Ben Martens said a lot of the problems with at-sea monitoring could be solved with more money – something that Huffman and Congress has all the power to decide.

“The best way forward for us is to deal with the cost problem,” he said. “Congress controls the purse strings.”

The NEFMC and NOAA can allocate funding if it is made available, but without congressional approval there’s no money to allocate. Martens also pointed out that in comparison to the agriculture industry, fishermen get very little in the way of governmental assistance.

“There are real investments that we need to be making now in our fishermen and our fishing communities,” he said.

The NEFMC is discussing the potential Amendment 23 changes during its September meetings, running from 29 September to 1 October.  

Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries

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