The federal government will continue to foot the bill for its mandatory at-sea monitoring program for another year, after meeting with fishermen and state representatives in recent weeks and reviewing the economic impact of the costs associated with the year-old catch shares fisheries management program.
The catch shares program divides New England’s fishing fleet into sectors with allocations for poundage of fish, rather than an allocation of days at sea. Backers argue that it ends the so-called “race for fish” of the past several decades and that some groundfish stocks have begun to recover. Critics say it promotes unhealthy consolidation of the fishing fleet and hurts fishing communities.
Small fishermen like Greg Mayhew of Chilmark who, along with his son Todd, are the only Vineyard fishermen active in the catch shares sector program, fear that the federal government may cut funding for the at-sea observer program required under catch shares. At-sea observers accompany fishermen on trips to validate catch reports, monitor bycatch and prevent discards and can cost up to $700 a day. For at least the next year that cost will be covered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“We want to assure fishermen that NOAA will continue to fund the cost of at-sea monitoring for New England groundfish through April 30, 2013, the end of the 2012 fishing year,” NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco said in a press statement. “While the budget for fiscal year 2012 is still uncertain, we are committed to securing this funding.”
Ms. Lubchenco has been under fire in recent weeks in some quarters for her performance.
At a press conference in Gloucester last week, Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown publicly called for President Obama to fire Ms. Lubchenco. Mr. Brown has introduced a bill to end of catch shares.
In a NOAA press statement Ms. Lubchenco responded. “I understand these are extremely difficult times for many fishermen and their families. NOAA wants to be a partner in the success of fishermen, to sustain fishing jobs, to create a profitable and healthy future for fishing communities and to maintain healthy marine fisheries,” she said.