NOAA Fisheries today said it will reimburse Northeast groundfishermen an estimated 85 percent of the 2016 sea days needed for at-sea monitoring, alleviating if only temporarily the burden of fishermen assuming the costs of the observer program.

The agency has scheduled a 2 p.m. teleconference to discuss the 2016 observer sea-day allocation and schedule, as well as details on the reimbursement plan.

In a reversal of its previous stance and statements, NOAA said any groundfish sector trip beginning on or after July 1 may be eligible for the reimbursement of at-sea monitoring costs through a program the federal fisheries regulator is developing with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

The agency also stressed the reimbursement program is temporary and unlikely to last beyond the 2016 fishing season but "preserves the the contract relationships sectors already have in place" with third-party at-sea monitoring providers.

Federal groundfish permit holders absorbed the costs of at-sea monitoring — estimated at an average of $710 per day per vessel —  on March 1 after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it had exhausted the funds budgeted for that program.

NOAA, however, said it was able to fully fund its more expansive Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodology (SBRM) program that extends across all commercial fisheries and will apply the remaining funds to reimburse the groundfish industry for some at-sea monitoring costs.

"While dependent on how much fishing effort occurs and the cost of each trip (because industry was able to negotiate different sea-day rate costs), we anticipate approximately 85 percent of the sea days needed for at-sea monitoring for the current fishing year will be covered, according to a NOAA Fisheries communication to congressional staff obtained by the Gloucester Daily Times.

The communication also said NOAA Fisheries does not expect the reimbursement to recur in future fishing years because it seldom has funds to fully cover the SBRM program or generate a surplus that could be used to fund at-sea monitoring.

We will update this story here at gloucestertimes.com as more information becomes available. For full coverage, look to tomorrow’s print and online editions of the Gloucester Daily Times and gloucestertimes.com.

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

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