The New England Fishery Management Council has been toiling for two years on the amendment that would set monitoring levels for vessels in the Northeast groundfish fishery and now appears to be hitting the home stretch.

Final action on the measure — known as Amendment 23 — now is expected at the council's September meeting. The meeting, Sept. 29 to Oct. 1,  currently is set for the Beauport Hotel Gloucester on Commercial Street, but could be shifted to a webinar depending on the state of the COVID-19 virus and its associated restrictions.

The council, which extended the public comment period to Aug. 31, already has held three public hearings via webinar on Amendment 23 and plans more in July and August. The next is scheduled for July 16 at 4 p.m. and interested participants can access all related documents in the Amendment 23 library on the council website, nefmc.org.

The council also is reaching out to commercial fishermen and other stakeholders, offering a variety of platforms to help them understand the complexities of the amendment and ease their participation in the online public hearings.

It has posted a video on its website of the presentation explaining the measure that is shown at the public hearings to stakeholders additional time to digest details and develop comments. It also plans to hold staff "office hours" so individuals and small groups can call in with questions on the monitoring measure. It also will work with commercial fishing organizations to hold webinar training sessions in advance of the public hearings.

The stated goal of the amendment is improve the accuracy and accountability of catch reporting in the groundfish fishery. Commercial fishermen are wary of the measure, fearing that the daily monitoring levels will be so high as to create an unmanageable financial strain on their businesses.

The council has selected preferred alternatives that apply solely to groundfish sector vessels.

They include 100% at-sea monitoring coverage for all vessel trips through a combination of at-sea monitoring — for which fishermen will be on the hook financially — and the Northeast Fisheries Observer Program. The preferred alternatives also include the ability to utilize electronic monitoring instead of human at-sea observers.

The council had hoped to take final action on Amendment 23 at its June meeting. But pandemic-related travel restrictions and the need for fishermen to concentrate on keeping their businesses afloat convinced the council to push it off to September.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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