BOSTON — Federal fishery managers have told beleaguered New England fishermen that they’ll try to cover the millions it costs to hire required at-sea catch monitors for the coming fishing year.
But they also warned they couldn’t guarantee the funds, in large part because of automatic “sequestration” spending cuts that kicked in Friday, along with the lack of a federal budget for the 2013 fiscal year.
With Gloucester and other New England groundfishermen already facing cuts of up to 77 percent in Gulf of Maine cod for the 2013 fishing year, which begins May 1, NOAA’s Gloucester-based Northeast regional administrator, John Bullard, added at a January meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council that fishermen would also be expected to pick up a share of the cost of NOAA’s monitors since the agency had not budgeted to cover the full cost, as it had done for the previous three years under the catch share management system.
Monitors — provided by outside contracting firms under contract to NOAA, including one headed by former NOAA regional administrator Andrew Rosenberg — earn roughly $300 a day while placed on fishing vessels to track what they haul in and what they discard to try to ensure accuracy in a management system that relies on strict quotas for each species.
Many fishermen have said that, with their radical declines in catch, it will be impossible to pay the expense, estimated at about $6.7 million for the fleet.
In a letter to lawmakers last week, fishermen asked them to push the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to find a way to cover the costs. And in a visit to Gloucester two weeks ago, first-year U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, fielding a variety of concerns and pleas from fishermen for help, said she would work toward ensuring NOAA continues to pick up the monitoring cost as well.
On Friday, the Northeast’s top federal fisheries scientist, Bill Karp, said NOAA recognizes “this will be an exceptionally difficult year for fishermen so we are working on a plan to cover as much of these costs as possible at NOAA.”
But he added, “We cannot definitively commit to this because of the high degree of uncertainty due to the potential effects of sequestration and the lack of a FY13 budget.”
Jackie Odell, executive director of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, the region’s largest fishing industry group, said the coalition recognizes the current budgetary and political climates are difficult.
“We’re grateful that NOAA Fisheries is listening to the concerns of the groundfish industry and are making efforts to help mitigate draconian reductions facing our fishermen,” she said.