PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — New England fishermen, running out of time before the federal government hands them the cost of monitoring the industry at sea, say emergency intervention is needed or many of them will be out of business.
The monitors are trained workers who collect data on commercial fishing trips that help fishery managers with things like setting quotas on catches in future years. Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the money it had been using to pay for monitors who work in New England fisheries such as cod, pollock and haddock is going to run out around Dec. 1.
Fishermen will have to pay for the monitors, which can cost more than $700 per trip. The new cost is almost certain to put people out of work in a struggling fishery that is already challenged by declining fish stocks and tough quotas, said Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association.
"It's really scary. At the same time, we have problems with our resources right now," Martens said. "We need to make sure we have better and stronger business not just next year, but three and five years down the line."
The monitoring rule applies to New England's groundfishing industry, which fishes for important food species that have plummeted in volume in recent years. Maine's catch of haddock fell from nearly 1.5 million pounds in 2003 to less than 150,000 pounds in 2013, and Massachusetts' catch of cod fell from more than 19 million pounds to about 4 million pounds in that time.
Several New England congressmen said they are looking for ways to reduce the burden for fishermen. U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, has submitted a bill to terminate the independent, third-party monitoring program unless it is fully funded by NOAA. She and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., requested an investigation of the monitoring program in a letter that said the shift in cost is happening at a "moment when the fishery can least afford it."
Maine's Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said she and colleagues are looking into ways the monitoring program can be tweaked to make it more affordable. She said another potential solution is electronic monitoring.
"The fishery has been declared a disaster in recent times, and now to force them to add these costs," Pingree said.
NOAA spokeswoman Jennifer Goebel said regulators will look for ways to streamline the monitoring process, but added that the monitors collect valuable data necessary to manage the fishery.