Who says no one writes letters anymore? The battle over at-sea monitoring and other issues within the Northeast multispecies groundfish fishery is just full of them.
On Tuesday, NOAA Regional Administrator John K. Bullard sent a letter to the New England Fishery Management Council declining two more requests the council made in June to modify the at-sea monitoring program, while saying the request for analyzing ways for streamlining the at-sea monitoring (ASM) program is underway.
On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker, following up on his pledge made last Thursday during a trip to Gloucester, waded further into the at-sea monitoring fray with his own letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, whose department oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Baker’s letter, signed by members of the state’s congressional delegation, sought Pritzker’s support for NOAA’s continued funding of ASM rather than following through with the federal agency’s plan to shift the cost of at-sea monitoring — estimated at $600 to $800 per observer trip — to the already-beleaguered permit holders when federal funds run out, projected now to be at end of October.
Baker’s letter also questioned the necessity of NOAA’s expansion of other forms of monitoring within the Massachusetts and New England lobster fleets.
Bullard’s letter on Tuesday to NEFMC Executive Director Tom Nies followed the same rejective tone as his letter about two weeks ago that rejected the council request — also made at its June meeting — for NOAA to use its administrative authority to suspend all groundfish at-sea monitoring for the remainder of the 2015 season.
“While we do have authority to make administrative adjustments to the ASM program in-season, none of the options would be consistent with the current regulatory requirements and statistical standards, and as a result, we cannot take administrative action to modify the at-sea monitoring coverage for 2015,” Bullard wrote in his Tuesday letter.
Bullard said the agency had considered several of the options advanced by the council at its June meeting and determined none would reduce monitoring costs and still allow the program to achieve the coverage rate — estimated to require observers on 24 percent of all vessel trips — “and statistical standards necessary to monitor sector catch.”
“Therefore,” Bullard wrote, “we are not taking administrative action to adjust the ASM coverage rate for fishing year 2015.”
Bullard also said that many of the in-season, at-sea monitoring modifications sought by the council do no fall within the criteria for implementing emergency administrative action, but “are better suited for the council process.”
He recommended the council consider the same concepts within its own process for developing fishery management plans, including different at-sea monitoring coverage rates for different areas and “other ways to prioritize ASM” as long as they produce the total regulated coverage for the fishery.
Bullard said NOAA also declined to exercise its power of administrative action to accede to the council’s request to exclude “extra large mesh trips” from the 24 percent ASM coverage rate because “this request requires a substantial change to the fishing management plan that is beyond administrative authority.”
Bullard closed his letter by saying the council’s request for an overall evaluation of the ASM program to determine effectiveness, costs, data precision and catch accountability already has begun.
“We agree that completing this analysis is a necessary step to investigate streamlining the ASM program to improve efficiency,” Bullard wrote. “Given the overlap of this request with the (council’s) Groundfish (Plan Development Team)’s tasks, we intend to support this request through Regional Office and Northeast Fisheries Science Center staff participation on the PDT.”
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.