Former fisherman Sam Parisi appeared before the city Fisheries Commission on Thursday night to tout his campaign for national legislation to help fishermen as the federal Farm Bill helps farmers.

"We need someone to draft a fish bill like the farm bill," Parisi told the commission members at City Hall. "The only way we can survive is with federal legislation and assistance. Farmers get paid not to grow certain crops. Why can't we get paid not to fish certain stocks?"

Parisi requested the commission write a letter to the city's congressional delegation in support of drafting of a bill specifically to help fishermen and fishing communities. But commission members, while appreciative of Parisi's sentiments, also expressed concerns that a campaign to write, pass and enact federal legislation is fraught with its own perils.

"The danger is saying we'll back a bill that doesn't exist," said Chairman Mark Ring. "You don't want to back something 100% without seeing it."

While Parisi's concept was short on specifics beyond federal reimbursement when catch quotas are cut, his proposal led to an active discussion on the next steps for a fishery that continues to find itself under the siege of still-dormant cod quota in the Gulf of Maine, questionable stock assessments and expanding regulation — and cost — of all manner of monitoring.

"National legislation is an enormous task," said John Bell, the former mayor and long-time advocate for commercial fishing who attended the meeting. "We have immediate situations in front of us with at-sea monitoring and how we count the fish. We have said that, going forward, there are two primary issues — who owns the fleet and how we count fish. And the first is dependent on the second."

The commission members, in the end, decided the best course is to work with Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken to set up a meeting — a fish summit of sorts — with U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton of Salem, Massachusetts Sens. Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren and New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen -- to discuss the challenges facing the fishery and possible solutions. The city's State House delegation also would be invited to participate.

"Nothing works better than face-to-face," said commission member Angela Sanfilippo of the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association.

Primary among the litany of concerns is the monitoring measure — Amendment 23 — currently being developed by the New England Fishery Management Council.

The amendment will set future monitoring levels for Northeast groundfish fishermen, including some which fishermen ultimately will be responsible for funding. The current draft of the amendment includes four alternatives that call for groundfish monitoring coverage levels of 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%.

Groundfishermen have made it clear that any radical increases in monitoring coverage — particularly at-sea monitoring, for which they ultimately will foot the bill — could bankrupt the fishery. They also have said that any increase in monitoring levels should carry associated benefits back to fishermen.

In September, Northeast Fishing Sector XII's Frank Mirachi told the New England Fishery Management Council at its meeting in Gloucester that increasing monitoring coverage to 50 percent from the current 31 percent would produce daily costs of $350 per vessel. Those daily costs would rise to $525 under 75% coverage, Mirachi said.

Currently, NOAA Fisheries is paying for at-sea monitoring through $10.3 million which Shaheen — a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee— secured in the federal budget specifically to pay for at-sea monitoring. But that money is running out without guarantees of future funding.

"Maybe the drum we should be banging is to make sure that the costs of the monitoring continue to be paid (by the federal government)," Ring said.

The council, which has been working on Amendment 23 for more than two years, expects to vote on the full range of coverage alternatives at its January meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The alternatives, along with the draft environmental impact statement that includes analyses for the respective alternatives, then would go out for public comment in the early spring of 2020. Final action is expected in June. 

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

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