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NOAA Agrees to Pay for At-Sea Monitoring
 and Fishery Observer Coverage
for Fishing Year 2014

WASHINGTON (Saving Seafood) February 21, 2014 -- NOAA Fisheries (formally known as the National Marine Fisheries Service) announced today that, based on recommendations from the New England Fishery Management Council, it will pay the costs for fishery observers and at-sea monitors for groundfish vessels operating in Northeast sectors.

Current regulations mandate that observers be present on a percentage of groundfish vessels to verify that the catch is accurately recorded and that fishermen are not exceeding their yearly allocations. According to NOAA, the agency's goal is to have observer coverage on 26 percent of groundfish trips.
 
However, the requirement is set up as an unfunded mandate, which means without action from NOAA, the industry itself would be required to pay for the costs of the Federally-mandated monitoring. NOAA has funded the previous costs of at-sea monitoring, and announced to Congress today that it will likely be able to pay the monitoring costs for 2014, if current estimates on fishing effort hold true.

The Massachusetts Congressional delegation praised the decision. Senator Elizabeth Warren called it "good news for Massachusetts' hardworking fishermen," adding that "our fishing families are already facing tough times, and they should not be forced to bear the additional burden of at-sea monitoring costs." Senator Ed Markey called at-sea monitoring "a critical component of ensuring healthy fish stocks and maximizing the fish that our fishermen can harvest," and stated that the NOAA funding "means we can learn more about what's happening in the ocean without imposing extra burdens on our struggling fishermen."

Congressman John Tierney hailed the decision as "welcomed and positive news," noting, "now is certainly not the time for our fishermen to absorb the financial burden of paying for at-sea monitoring," while Congressman Joseph Kennedy declared that it will "strengthen and sustain the communities that rely upon the groundfish industry as a major source of income and vitality."

Congressman Bill Keating called the decision "one step toward providing much-needed relief to fishing communities who have expressed concern that they will be unable to meet these standards directly due to their cost," and Congressman Stephen Lynch labeled the announcement "an important one for Massachusetts fishermen who have long been in need of relief."

The delegation had strongly urged the agency to cover the industry's monitoring costs. They had previously been instrumental in securing $75 million in relief funding for the economic disaster declarations issued for several US fisheries by the Commerce Department.

The Northeast Seafood Coalition (NSC), which represents many of the groundfishermen in the Northeast, had similar praise for both the announcement and for the members of Congress who helped secure funding.

"NSC is extremely grateful to Chairwoman Mikulski and all the Members of the northeast Congressional delegations for including in the FY 2014 appropriations a directive for the agency to fully fund the at-sea monitoring program, and for rejecting the agency's initial consideration to use fisheries disaster funding for this purpose," said the organization in a statement. "To state the obvious, northeast groundfish fishermen are in a state of severe disaster and are in no position to assume these costs at this time. Once again, our friends in Congress really came through for us."
 
However, in its notification to Congress, the agency warned that it is uncertain whether it will able to pay for future costs, raising the possibility that these costs many be passed on to the industry. The agency may reevaluate the funding situation pending the passage of the   Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodology Omnibus Amendment.

The full announcement from NOAA is included below:

Today, NOAA Fisheries announced that the agency will cover observer and at-sea monitoring costs for groundfish sectors in 2014 to meet the requirements developed and recommended by the New England Fishery Management Council under its groundfish plan.

This year, the monitoring target is 26 percent of the fishing trips by groundfish vessels. The fishery management plan requires at-sea monitoring for groundfish sectors to ensure that all catch, including discards, is accounted for and ultimately that quotas are not exceeded, and also requires the industry to pay for their costs of this monitoring.

Since implementation, NOAA Fisheries has paid for all at-sea monitoring costs. Based on anticipated effort in the groundfishery for the coming fishing year, which begins on May 1, the agency expects to be able to continue to cover the groundfish industry's portion of these costs for fishing year 2014, which runs May 1, 2014 through April 30, 2015. 

 


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