Spending bill takes cost of at-sea monitors off groundfish fleet

The federal omnibus spending bill that U.S.President Donald Trump signed into law Friday, 23 March, included a provision lifting a fee New England groundfish fishermen paid for at-sea monitors to accompany them on excursions.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) said the spending package now prevents the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from placing the cost of at-sea monitors on fishermen in the Northeast. The charge was as much as USD 700 (EUR 564) per day on fishing trips. 

“New Hampshire fishermen face enough daunting challenges – the last thing they need right now is to be further burdened with a costly regulatory fee,” Shaheen said in a press release. “We should be focused on making it easier, not harder for our commercial fishing industry to compete in today’s market, which is why I fought to include relief for at-sea monitoring costs this year. I’ll continue to prioritize our fishermen and work to ensure the industry’s long-term sustainability.”

At-sea monitors collect data on board commercial fishing vessels by interviewing boat captains, observation, and photographing their catches. The monitors weigh both the fish kept and discarded as well as monitor interactions with protected species.

The new law ends a lengthy battle taken on by fishermen in the region who fought to keep the government from shifting the cost onto them. They filed the suit in December 2015, nine months after NOAA announced it would start charging them for the monitors.

However, federal courts ruled the fishermen were tardy in filing their suit. The judges said it should have been filed in 2010, when NOAA initially announced the program. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case when it started its term last October.

Still, judges suggested that Congress could resolve that matter for the fishermen.

Cause for Action, a nonprofit institute that represented fishermen in the lawsuit, said the fees could have kept about 60 percent of the groundfish industry from making a profit. 

In addition, Shaheen said she secured USD 2 million (EUR 1.6 million) for research on the region’s groundfish industry, including how warming waters affect the fishery.

Photo courtesy of NE Observer Program, NEFSC / NOAA


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