Shutdown hooks fisheries

MIKE SPRINGER/Staff file photo/The partial federal government shutdown had effectively has shuttered the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office on Great Republic Drive.

The real-world implications from the partial shutdown of the federal government, which entered its 19th day on Wednesday, are starting to be felt by the fishing industry and other stakeholders.

In Gloucester, the shutdown effectively has shuttered the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office on Great Republic Drive, impeding fishermen from dropping off documentation in person, contacting NOAA Fisheries personnel by telephone or email, and leaving other regulatory groups scrambling without essential input and participation from many NOAA Fisheries staffers.

So, while the New England Fishery Management Council remains at work, it is being hampered by lack of access to its federal management partners at GARFO and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole.

"Since many GARFO and NEFSC scientists and fishery management specialists are key contributors to the council's plan development teams and provide critical input and analyses during committee meetings, the council is rescheduling or modifying the agendas of several meetings where NOAA Fisheries representatives were expected to provide pivotal presentations, reports and/or analyses," the council said in a release detailing the impact of the shutdown.

Several groundfish plan development team meetings have been revised or postponed. The groundfish committee will meet Jan. 15 at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Danvers, but with a revised agenda.

The council's scallop advisory panel is still set to meet Jan. 17 in Boston and the full scallop committee is scheduled to meet the next day. 

Council spokeswoman Janice Plante said the council's January meeting — set for Jan. 29-31 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire — will proceed as scheduled. Plante said the agenda for the meeting does not include any deliberations on final actions, but some discussions might be limited in their scope without input from NOAA Fisheries staffers and executives.

"Some of our discussions may be cut a little short if the shutdown is still in effect," Plante said. "We'll go forward and do as much as we can and move ahead as much as possible."

Paperwork, new season

The shutdown has not yet had a major impact on daily fishing beyond paperwork glitches on the filing of vessel trip reports, dealer reports and the like, according to David Leveille, manager of the Gloucester-based Northeast Fishing Sector II.

Leveille said those paperwork bottlenecks have left the groundfish sectors in the dark as to where they stand currently on quota and total catch. 

"There are some problems with some of the systems, so we really don't know what's being updated," Leveille said. "They're still deploying observers, but the trip notification system isn't functioning correctly and if you look around the sector for the total groundfish catch, that's not being updated either. It's an ongoing process to reconcile these trips and they're all things you need people to figure out.

"It's only going to get worse. It's not going to be easy to get caught up when they come back."

Jackie Odell, executive director of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, said her primary concern is the shutdown could delay the intricate rule-making process that relies so heavily on NOAA Fisheries and the rest of the federal government, particularly with the May 1 start date of the new fishing season looming.

"There's a complex process for rule making whenever the council approves new regulations," Odell said. "It involves final analyses and technical work before final approval and the new rules are placed in the Federal Register. So, I'm concerned about what can be and what will be approved before the new fishing season."  

President Donald Trump and top Republicans and Democrats met again Wednesday afternoon to try and negotiate an end to the partial government shutdown and the standoff over Trump's desire for $5.7 billion for a border barrier.

Vice President Mike Pence said Democrats were "unwilling to even negotiate" after Trump stalked out of the contentious meeting. "I think the president made his position very clear today that there will be no deal without a wall."

Later Wednesday, the House approved a bill to fund the Treasury Department, the IRS, the Federal Communications Commission, the Small Business Administration and the federal judiciary, among other agencies, for the next year as part of a Democratic strategy to reopen the government on a piecemeal basis.

The bill is unlikely to move forward in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has dismissed it as political theater.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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