By Richard Gaines
The National Marine Fisheries Service has redirected $1 million budgeted for dockside monitoring — a program effectively abandoned last spring — to help defray operating costs of the quasi voluntary business cooperatives or sectors that are working with catch shares.
"By providing funds directly to sectors," said Maggie Mooney-Seus, NOAA spokeswoman for the northeast region, "managers and members can determine how best to use the money to develop their respective operations. Sectors may use funds for approved operating costs such as sector manager salaries, office space rental and communications costs."
The mandatory dockside monitoring program ends Sept. 19 and there will be no required monitoring through April 30, 2012, when the 2012 groundfishing annum ends.
Costs for the monitoring program, which loses federal funding after 2012, were a sticking point with sector leaders. Among their arguments was that the burden of paying for the monitors would fall, in relative terms, more heavily on the day boat fleet than on the bigger offshore boats, and so it would reinforce the biases of the system which have worked to shift control of the industry into the hands of bigger and better capitalized fishing businesses.
The decision, announced last Monday, was praised by Jackie Odell, executive director of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, the largest industry umbrella organization which has launched 13 sectors representing different geographic, boat-size and gear-type fishing businesses.
"The utility and expense of the program at hand, which was scheduled to fall upon the shoulders of the struggling fishermen in the future, has been a serious issue for the NSC," Odell said in a statement. "We are pleased to see that the agency is being responsive to the concerns that have been raised — and that the remaining monies will be used to offset sector operational fees."
But Odell cautioned that monitoring is just one of the many expenses associated with catch-share management which needs to be addressed if managers want the program to be economically viable.
"With the allocations continuing to be low, monitoring is not the type of expense that the industry can even come close to taking on the responsibility of paying," Odell said.
The low allocations trace to a combination of factors — including a new requirement of the Magnuson-Stevens Act for hard catch limits and penalties for violations and the allocation formula for the shares based on catch histories in groundfish, minus beneficial allocations to two special interest groups, recreational fishermen and the sector of gillnetters and hook fishermen associated with the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association.
The dockside monitoring program required half the landings to be monitored in the first year of catch share fishing, through April 30, 2011, and had been scaled back to 20 percent for the second year which ends April 30, 2012.
How the unused monitoring funding is distributed has not been determined, according to Mooney-Seus.
Richard Gaines may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.