This week, the New England Fishery Management Council took a monumental step towards creating a more sustainable and equitable groundfish fishery for Maine fishermen.
Fishermen and managers identified low levels of accountability on the water as a major issue standing in the way of rebuilding groundfish and creating a fair and equitable fishery. The Groundfish fishery includes fish like haddock, hake, flounder, cod, and pollock. Over the past three years, the Council developed Amendment 23 to the Groundfish Fishery Management Plan outlining new regulations to address this problem. Essentially, the solution came down to the fleet needing a higher rate of monitoring to reestablish trust between all parties and ensure the data informing stock assessments is accurate and precise.
As a result, yesterday, the council voted to put 100% monitoring on boats in the New England Groundfish fishery for the next four years. But obviously, as with all things fishing, it is not quite that simple.
Putting an observer on a boat could cost a fisherman roughly $700 per day of fishing which can be an overwhelming expense to many fishing businesses. Fishing for groundfish is a high cost and low returns business venture, and adding the additional cost of observers has the potential to bankrupt all but the largest business owners in New England.
MCFA has been working with The Nature Conservancy, the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, and NOAA fisheries to create a cost-effective and less intrusive camera monitoring program to use in place of observers. But even with this program ready to be executed next year, the current costs associated with it are still too substantial for many fishing businesses to absorb considering the current economic climate.
Luckily, Congress has been allocating funds to cover the current cost for observers and there is close to $12,000,000 available with additional money in the congressional budget earmarked for this need.
The Council included in their motion for 100% monitoring the caveat that if the funds are not available, then the industry will only have to pay for coverage on 40% of the trips.
If we want an accountable fishery that does not bankrupt small family fishing businesses, federal funds will be imperative to bridging the gap between where we are to the future we hope to build. This solution is a compromise moved forward by the council that will protect the fleet while also creating more accountability -- as long as the funds are available to do so.