By Richard Gaines
---- — Congressman John Tierney, six of his colleagues in the Massachusetts congressional delegation, and five more from Maine and New Hampshire have written to the acting commerce secretary, formally urging the government to find a way to continue a full subsidy of at-sea monitoring costs while the industry absorbs drastic cuts in catch limits.
The letter, dated last Thursday, was written a week after the New England Fishery Management Council agreed to recommend reducing Gulf of Maine — or inshore — cod limits by 77 percent and Georges Bank or off-shore cod catches by 61 percent, constrictions that are widely expected by industry and government alike to threaten the viability of groundfishing.
Both inshore and offshore cod at those levels of reduced landing would be considered “choke species,” a status that bar the fleet from targeting the groundfish at all in the fishing year that begins May 1.
Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank last September declared the Northeast groundfishery a recognized “economic disaster” — 11 months after the first request for that designation was filed by Gov. Deval Patrick. But the recent lame-duck Congress declined to appropriate any relief funding to address the disaster, with the House deleting a $150 million Senate-approved appropriation in the waning days before the 112th Congress expired Jan. 3.
NOAA Regional Administrator John Bullard announced last month in advance of the December council meeting that NOAA did not have the budget for a third year of 100 percent subsidy of at-sea monitoring, a requirement on about one third of groundfish trips. Each trip that is monitored pays $300 to the contractor. Bullard’s office has said the cost of monitoring is about $6-7 million a year.
“We are deeply concerned about the ability of the fishing industry to survive these considerable catch reductions, as well as the implications for the future sustainability of the resource,” the senators and representatives wrote to Blank. In addition to Tierney, whose district includes all of Cape Ann, the signees included both of the state’s senators — Elizabeth Warren and interim appointee William Cowan — and Reps. Edward Markey, Stephen Lynch, Michael Capuano, Joseph Kennedy III and William Keating.
Also signing the letter were Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Michael Michaud and Chellie Pingree and New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.
“Scientific and anecdotal evidence suggests a serious resource problem that must be addressed through science-based management. More needs to be done to improve our data collection and analysis because sound management can only be built on a strong understanding of the resource,” the lawmakers wrote. “We have consistently supported and will continue to support federal actions to improve fisheries science, invest in necessary infrastructure, and address the considerable economic burdens that fishing communities are facing. Now, in the face of an economic disaster declaration and looming cuts to catch limits, we urge you and the administration to exercise all authorities available through NOAA, the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Economic Development Administration (EDA) and other agencies to ensure the future of this industry.
”NOAA Fisheries must seriously consider the impact of further burdening our fishermen with at-sea monitoring costs and dedicate the resources necessary to continue to cover these costs,” they wrote. “Even without the drastic reductions in catch limits, our fishermen cannot feasibly afford their expected share of at-sea monitors, and it is vital that NOAA provide full funding to cover these costs. NOAA Fisheries must also move to rapidly and effectively implement virtual monitoring and other measures to further reduce costs while ensuring adequate coverage.”
The writers also urged Blank to “prioritize long-term investments in New England fisheries that will continue to improve our understanding of this resource and help move the fishery towards a healthy, sustainable future.”
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.