October 1, 2015 — NOAA Fisheries will continue bearing the cost for at-sea monitoring of Northeast multispecies groundfish vessels at least through the end of November, three months past the target date the agency initially set for the expense to shift to permit holders.
This extension — the second in as many months — is based on the same rationale as the first: with fishermen producing fewer fishing days because of slashed quotas and area closures, the money the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration budgeted for at-sea monitoring for at least 24 percent of total fishing days is lasting longer than the agency expected.
NOAA initially said the money for at-sea monitoring — which runs to about $710 per vessel per day — would run out around Aug. 31 and then the responsibility for paying for the legally mandated at-sea monitoring would have to be borne by the fishermen.
In early August, NOAA said decreased effort by the fleet had reduced monitoring expenditures enough for the money to last through Oct. 31. Now that same reduction in fishing effort has given the fleet another month-long reprieve, but it has not solved the long-term dilemma of how to pay for the at-sea monitoring.
The issue certainly is not going away.
NOAA is adamant that it expects permit holders to ultimately assume the cost of monitoring, while fishermen flatly state that the additional expense — heaped upon already miniscule, if non-existent, profit margins — simply will sink the fleet.
In late July, NOAA flatly rejected the request of the New England Fishery Management Council to use its emergency powers to remove all at-sea monitors from groundfish boats for the remainder of the 2015 fishing season.
Instead, NOAA, as well as the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, advanced the idea that the cost of monitoring be covered by some portion of the $6.9 million remaining in the Bay State’s third phase, or Bin 3, of the federal fishing disaster assistance.