The head of the NOAA-affiliated New England Fishery Management Council has told NOAA Northeast Regional administrator John Bullard than the panel stands opposed to Bullard’s call for fishermen venturing into newly opened areas off Cape Cod and Nantuck to bear the full cost of NOAA-mandated on-board monitors for any such trips.
In a letter dated July 26, Council Chairman C.M. “Rip” Cunningham told Bullard that the monitoring cost requirement may prevent virtually any fishermen from participating in the program.
He notes that as a result of the fragile economic state of many participants, the increased costs to fund observers may not be affordable. He also noted that little, if any, justification for this requirement was provided other than two general statements which the Council did not find convincing.
“Little, if any, justification is provided other than general statements that without higher coverage rates, ‘discard rates would be difficult to estimate because there is little catch history in these areas’ and the higher coverage would ‘allow (the National Marine Fisheries Service) to monitor whether vessels are interacting with protected species,’” Cunningham wrote. “Neither argument is convincing ...”
The letter follows a July 10 announcement in which Bullard, essentially saying he and the agency want to provide relief to fishermen dealing with a federally declared “economic disaster” and 2013 fishing year cuts of up to 78 percent in their landing limits, formally launched proposals to open portions of previously closed fishing areas.
NOAA spokeswoman Maggie Mooney-Seus — based, like Bullard, at NOAA’s Northeast regional headquarters in Gloucester’s Blackburn Industrial Park — indicated that the areas to opened would includes parts — but not all — of Areas I and II and the Nantucket Light Ship area. Mooney-Seus also noted that the change would primarily provide a boost only to the larger trawlers due to the distance to the grounds from Cape Ann; it would not be expected to help the smaller, independent day boats that make up Gloucester’s remaining but shrinking groundfishing fleet.
The New England Fishery Management Council, with representatives of each coastal state appointed by governors and including fishermen and others tied to the industry, advises NOAA on policy and the setting of catch limits — approving, for example, the 2009 catch share initiative that has, many fishermen and officials believe, led the groundfishing into its recognized state of economic disaster. But Bullard and NOAA have any final say despite any council vote.
This spring, for example, the council — along with state and federal lawmakers from across Massachusetts and the region — endorsed keeping the 2012 interim limits that cut Gulf of Maine cod landings by 22 percent, with other similar cuts for other stocks.
But Bullard — saying he was acting on the legal advice of NOAA General Counsel Lois Schiffer out of the National and Atmospheric Administration’s Silver Spring, Md., national headquarters — essentially trashed the council’s recommendation and instead imposed cod cuts of up to 78 percent and cuts to other stocks of between 50 and 65 percent as well.
In his letter to Bullard, Cunningham added that “the proposed (monitoring cost mandate) states that ‘this level of monitoring would also provide an ancillary benefit of gaining additional fishery dependent data from the catch in these areas.’”
“This is a false hope,” Cunningham wrote. “The requirement for industry funding will probably discourage many vessels from fishing in the areas.
“It is also not clear that NMFS has considered whether the benefits of this additional data is worth the significant costs to the industry,” he added. “It is not clear that different monitoring alternatives were considered that might increase the positive economic impacts of the proposed action.”