Feds plan to cover 2013 groundfish monitoring costs

According to press releases and media reports, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration announced today at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum in Rockport that it hopes to come up with the money needed this year to pay for at-sea monitors for the Northeast groundfish fleet.

In a prepared statement released Friday morning by NOAA Fisheries, Bill Karp, director of its Northeast Fisheries Science Center, said that eventually the fishing industry will have to pick up the bill. But given current low groundfish stocks and quotas, he said, the agency feels now is not the time to place such a financial burden on the industry.

“This will be an exceptionally difficult year for fishermen so we are working on a plan to cover as much of these costs as possible at NOAA,’’  Karp said in the statement. ‘‘We cannot definitively commit to this because of the high degree of uncertainty due to the potential effects of sequestration and the lack of a FY13 budget.’’

In a separate statement released Friday, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said she wrote a letter last month to NOAA asking them to pay for the monitoring program. All members of Maine’s congressional delegation, as well as other members of Congress from New England, signed the letter, she said.

“It’s not a firm commitment from NOAA but this is a good step in the right direction.  I’m going to keep urging them to follow through and pay for these expenses,” Pingree wrote in her statement.  “With costs of things like fuel continuing to go up and the quotas fishermen are getting going down, it’s just becoming harder and harder to make ends meet and the last thing they need is to have to pay the costs of federal monitoring.”

Pingree said NOAA is expected to pay monitoring costs beginning on May 1. According to the Associated Press, the cost of paying for at-sea monitors is expected to cost $6.7 million.

U.S. Senator Angus King also weighed in, saying the announcement is welcome news but much work remains to be done.

“Maine’s fishermen are important to our state’s economy, landing five million pounds of groundfish [worth] almost $5.8 million in Maine just last year,” King said. “At the same time, they’ve also endured incredible hardship over the past few years, experiencing massive reductions in catch limits that threaten the industry’s future.”

The groundfish industry in Maine has dropped off considerably in recent decades as catches have declined sharply, becoming virtually non-existent in the eastern Gulf of Maine, but fishermen and regulators have held out hope that, with the help of sufficient management measures, the fishery one day might rebound.

Bill Trotter

About Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors. He writes about fisheries, marine-related topics, eastern coastal Maine communities and more for the BDN. He lives in Ellsworth. Follow him on Twitter at @billtrotter.