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October 20, 2011

NOAA chief extends monitoring payments

In a preliminary response to Sen. John Kerry's comprehensive reform agenda for the New England fisheries, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco on Thursday announced a commitment to continue paying the multi-million dollar cost of at-sea monitoring for commercial fishing boats.

The contracted employees are used on about one-third of the trips to record discards and inventory the catches.

Lubchenco also volunteered to give industry a say in the selection of the two top positions in the Northeast region — regional administrator and chief scientist at the Science Center at Woods Hole.

In a 2,500-word letter to Lubchenco on Wednesday — two weeks after hosting a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in Boston — Kerry estimated the additional year's monitoring would cost $7.5 million.

Lubchenco's prepared statement did not price the subsidy, but she agreed to cover the monitoring costs through April 2013.

"We want to assure fishermen that NOAA will continue to fund the cost of at-sea monitoring for New England groundfish through April 30, 2013, the end of the 2012 fishng year," Lubchenco said in her prepared statement. "While the budget for fiscal 2012 is still uncertain, we are committed to securing this funding."

Jackie Odell, executive director of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, the region's largest industry group, had warned that many sectors or fishing cooperatives would be unable to absorb the cost of monitors, especially sectors of the smaller and independent day boats.

She thanked Sens. Kerry, along with Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both Maine Republicans, for protecting funding for the subsidy.

Government subsidies for monitors, which started with the onset of hard catch limits and catch share allocations and trading in May 2010, was scheduled to shift to industry next April 30. Fishermen and legislators have argued that the expense, an average of about $600 per day, would put more fishermen in the struggling industry out of business.

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