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Local Fishermen Concerned With Picking Up The Cost Of Monitoring As Federal Funding Runs Out

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Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say they will run out of money to pay for independent monitors on New England's ground fishing fleet on Dec. 1. This means the fishermen will have to pick up the cost to abide by federal regulations.

Maine Coast Fishermen's Association executive director Ben Martens says paying for the monitors, at upwards of $700 per trip, is untenable, especially for smaller boats.

"Fishermen might not make that much money in any given day," Martens says. "So there is a lot of concern about the cost of this system going onto an industry that right now is an economic disaster."

Monitors are trained workers required to go out with vessels on a number of trips to ensure fishermen are following rules and to collect data to determine future quotas on certain fish.

The monitoring rule applies to New England's ground fishing industry, which fishes for important food species that have plummeted in volume in recent years. Maine's catch of haddock fell from nearly 1.5 million pounds in 2003 to less than 150,000 pounds in 2013, and Massachusetts' catch of cod fell from more than 19 million pounds to about 4 million pounds in that time.

Several New England congressmen said they are looking for ways to reduce the burden for fishermen. U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, has submitted a bill to terminate the independent, third-party monitoring program unless it is fully funded by NOAA.

She and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., requested an investigation of the monitoring program in a letter that said the shift in cost is happening at a "moment when the fishery can least afford it."

Martens says fisheries managers knew that the industry would eventually have to pick up the cost of the monitors. However, he hopes they could find a more cost-effective model.

He says replacing human observers with an electronic monitoring system for each boat may prove to be a cheaper and better option.

"Eventually we are going to have to pay, and we want to make sure there is an option that is more cost effective, but also getting us better data into the system," Martens said.

With reporting by WBUR's Qainat Khan and The Associated Press

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