U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton had a busy — and fruitful — week on the fishing front in the U.S. House of Representatives.
On Thursday, the freshman Democrat from the Massachusetts 6th Congressional District announced he and two other New England representatives secured an appropriations commitment to allow NOAA to continue paying for observer coverage on commercial fishing boats, including those in the Northeast multispecies groundfish fishery.
The commitment from Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, a key appropriations subcommittee chairman, included $43 million in the House appropriations bill for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to cover the expense of observer coverage in the coming federal fiscal year.
The appropriations request still must survive budget negotiations with the Senate to be enacted in the final federal budget.
If enacted, the $43 million would relieve the fishing industry of a crushing expense of assuming the cost for providing coverage. NOAA Fisheries has said that as of August it will not have the budgetary wherewithal to continue paying for observer coverage and will shift fiscal responsibility for observers to the industry.
Moulton joined Reps. William Keating, D-Mass., and Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, in convincing Culberson to commit to the appropriation.
On Monday, Moulton joined with Keating of New Bedford and Bay State Congressman Stephen Lynch of South Boston, to include an amendment to Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act reauthorization bill that passed the House.
That amendment mandates that money contained in NOAA’s Asset Forfeiture Fund will be used for fishery research and stock assessments; at-sea and shoreside monitoring; engineering of conservation gear; fishery impact statements; and other uses determined priorities by the New England Fisheries Management Council and the seven other regional management councils.
“This amendment will provide our fishermen, shoreside businesses and fishing communities with the assurance that money in NOAA’s Asset Forfeiture Fund will go toward improving the science behind sustainable fishery management practices,” Moulton said on the floor of the House. “Additionally, the amendment offers fisheries councils with the resources they need to develop comprehensive fishery impact analyses to better serve our fisheries and fishing communities.”
The amendment was supported by the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition and other industry stakeholder groups that have been consistently critical of the science employed by NOAA Fisheries in its stock assessments.
“The conservation and management of the New England groundfish fishery, on which our Gloucester fishing community alone has depended for over four centuries, has been spectacularly confounded by the complex ecosystem dynamics in the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank and Southern New England, and the inability of fishery science to measure or predict the impacts of those dynamics on our fish stocks,” Northeast Seafood Coalition Executive Director Jackie Odell said in a statement. “This has been in significant part due to the rigidity of the current law that places demands on science it simply cannot meet. This legislation will provide managers with a substantially improved set of science-based management tools that are far more responsive to the realities of ecosystem and stock dynamics in our fishery.”
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act reauthorization bill still must pass the Senate.
On Thursday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sent letters to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate’s committee on commerce, science and transportation in support of the Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization bill that passed the House and requesting them to expedite their review of the legislation.
“The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office is committed to a balanced approach aimed at ensuring both species conservation and the long-term survival of our fisheries,” Healey wrote to Sens. John Thune and Bill Nelson. “The reauthorization of the MSA is needed to ensure effective conservation of fish species and management of all fisheries in our nation’s oceans.”
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