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Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline welcomed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) announcement that it will be able to cover a significant portion of Northeast groundfish fishermen’s at-sea monitoring (ASM) costs for this fishing season—relieving a significant financial burden for the Rhode Island groundfish industry.
Citing a federal court finding, NOAA shifted the cost of at-sea monitoring to fishermen at the beginning of this fishing year, requiring fishermen to pay the full cost of on-board observers. NOAA has reversed course and identified around $900,000 in its budget that could be applied to help cover most of these costs while adhering to the court’s requirements. NOAA officials estimate the funding will pay for roughly 85 percent of the at-sea monitoring costs that would otherwise come out of fishermen’s pockets.
“This is good news for fishermen as we continue to encourage NOAA to reduce the cost of at-sea monitoring and promote less expensive alternatives, such as electronic monitoring,” said Senator Reed.
“This is welcome relief for Rhode Island fishermen who’ve been stuck with steep at-sea monitoring bills,” said Senator Whitehouse, who has joined with Senator Reed to request additional funding to cover the cost of NOAA’s ASM Program. “The groundfish industry has been facing stiff economic headwinds and depleted fish stocks for years. They shouldn’t have the added burden of paying for federally required monitors aboard their boats. I’m glad NOAA has listened to Rhode Island fishermen and found a way to help them shoulder these costs. This is only a temporary fix though, and NOAA should accelerate its work to move the nation’s fisheries into the modern era by implementing cost-effective electronic monitoring.”
In the wake of catastrophic declines in Northeast groundfish stocks in 2012, fishing communities in Rhode Island and across the Northeast have been experiencing tremendous financial strain as these stocks slowly rebuild. The crisis has left many Rhode Island fishermen, particularly those with the smallest boats, with little room to pay additional per-trip fees for at-sea monitoring. To remain in the fishery, many fishermen are being forced to draw on personal income or extended credit, shift costs to crew, shrink crew size, or postpone vessel maintenance.
“Catch limits are critical to protecting the long-term sustainability of our Atlantic fisheries, but we must also keep in mind their impacts on our local fishermen,” said Congressman Jim Langevin. “I am glad that NOAA has found a short-term solution to assist with costs of at-sea monitoring, and I look forward to finding additional ways to support the continued viability of Rhode Island’s fishing industry.”
“For far too long, Rhode Island’s fishermen have faced significant burdens as a result of inordinate at-sea monitoring costs. The fishing industry is essential to Rhode Island’s economy, and it’s important that we put them in a position to succeed,” said Cicilline. “I am delighted that NOAA listened to these concerns and is providing Rhode Island fishermen with new resources to cover these costs.”
The funding will be available beginning July 1. Fishermen should reach out to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to apply for reimbursements for at-sea monitoring costs. The assistance will remain available for this fishing year that ends in April of 2017.