Mass. Governor, Congressional Delegation to Obama Administration: Fund At-Sea Monitoring for New England Fishermen

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The Governor of Massachusetts and the state's Congressional delegation are calling upon the Obama Administration to reverse current policy and continue to fund at-sea monitoring for the Northeast groundfish fishery. The Northeast Seafood Coalition expresses support for the request by the Governor, Senators, and Members of Congress in this Saving Seafood news release.

Monitors will cost the fishery $2.64 million in the first year alone, and would lead to an estimated 60 percent of the vessels in the fishery operating at a loss.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, and all nine Members of Congress from Massachusetts have called upon the Obama Administration to reverse recent policy decisions and continue the funding of at-sea monitoring for Northeastern fishermen. While the agency currently funds at-sea monitors, fishermen will have to assume the full cost of the program beginning this year, which the industry contends they will be unable to afford.

In a letter to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, Governor Baker and the Massachusetts Congressional delegation expressed “serious concern over recent actions taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.” The signatories are especially critical of the agency’s current at-sea monitoring policy, specifically its plan to shift funding of the program from NOAA onto fishermen, noting that such a move could potentially bankrupt the industry.

The Republican Governor and the all-Democratic Congressional delegation have joined forces to criticize the Administration decision and the heavy costs that individual fishermen are likely to incur as a result of this policy, especially in light of the fact that fishermen are still recovering from the federal economic disaster declared by the Commerce Department in 2012.

Citing a NOAA analysis of the transfer, the letter notes that monitors will cost the fishery $2.64 million in the first year alone, and would lead to an estimated 60 percent of the vessels in the fishery operating at a loss. According to the Governor and legislators, this amounts to an “unfunded mandate that could lead to the end of the Northeast Groundfishery as we know it.”

At its June meeting, the New England Fishery Management Council requested that NOAA take administrative actions to “improve the efficiency of the program,” as well as “reduce costs of the [at-sea monitoring program] without compromising compliance” with current laws. In its response to the Council, NOAA rejected these requests, stating that they were not “consistent with current regulatory requirements and statistical standards.”

The Gloucester, Massachusetts-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, which represents a significant percentage of the groundfish fleet, criticized NOAA’s decisions, while coming out in support of efforts by Gov. Baker and Congress to force a change in agency policy.

“The Council has questioned the benefits and the costs to the groundfish fishery of the at-sea monitoring program, and has given their clear directive to the Agency to either suspend or make the existing program more cost effective,” said Jackie Odell, Executive Director of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, a member organization of Saving Seafood. “All requests made to date have received an astounding ‘no’ from NOAA. The Northeast Seafood Coalition strongly supports the requests made by the Council, Governor Baker and Members of Congress. When is enough, enough?”

In addition to Secretary Pritzker, the letter was sent to Sens. Thad Cochran and Barbara Mikulski, and Reps. Hal Rogers and Nita Lowey. Gov. Baker and Sens. Warren and Markey are joined by Reps. Richard Neal, Jim McGovern, Michael Capuano, Stephen Lynch, Niki Tsongas, William Keating, Joseph Kennedy, Katherine Clark, and Seth Moulton as signatories of the letter.

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Robert Vanasse
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