Official says feds will cover fishery observer cost

Posted Oct. 20, 2011, at 6:18 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 20, 2011, at 6:57 p.m.

BOSTON — The nation’s oceans chief says the federal government will cover what fishermen feared could be crushing costs for the on-board observers that monitor how much they catch or throw overboard.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Jane Lubchenco announced Wednesday that the observers would be funded by the government through the 2012 fishing year, which ends in April 2013.

The observers are needed to monitor the catch under a new fishing system that relies on strict limits on how much a fisherman can catch or discard of a particular groundfish species, such as haddock or cod. If fishermen exceed the limit on one species, fishing stops on all species.

The government paid the multimillion-dollar costs of bringing the observers to sea during the first two years under the new system, beginning in 2010. But fishermen were supposed to cover that cost this year. Fishermen and legislators have argued that the expense, an average of about $600 per day, would put more fishermen in the struggling industry out of business.

Lubchenco said she had heard the concerns and was acting “to ease the economic burden of the fishery’s observer program.”

“It’s clear that fishermen are not yet able to assume at-sea monitoring costs,” Lubchenco said in a press release.

The Northeast Seafood Coalition, a Gloucester-based industry group, said it was pleased NOAA planned to continue funding the program.

“[The coalition] has spent much of our time educating members of Congress, the agency and the New England Fishery Management Council on the looming crisis pending — if fishermen were required to pay such costs,” the coalition said in a statement.

On Cape Cod, Chatham fishermen said the announcement put them in good spirits, despite lousy fishing weather Thursday.

“This decision ensures that we will be able to fish next year,” said fisherman Mike Russo in a press release. “Without it, we may have had to close up shop. Having NOAA fund this program is the right thing to do.”

Lubchenco’s announcement came the same day Sen. John Kerry wrote her a letter requesting help for area fishermen, including the money to pay for the observers. Kerry’s letter was a follow-up to Lubchenco’s visit to Boston early this month to face sometimes pointed questions about her agency’s oversight of the local fishing industry.

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