New monitoring rules for Northeast fishermen aimed at better data

Gulls follow a commercial fishing boat as crewmen haul in their catch in the Gulf of Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)
Gulls follow a commercial fishing boat as crewmen haul in their catch in the Gulf of Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Changes to U.S. rules about the monitoring of Northeast commercial fishing activities are going into effect this month with a goal of providing more accurate information about some of the nation's oldest fisheries.

The U.S. mandates observers to work onboard fishing boats to collect data and make sure fishermen adhere to rules and quotas. The relationship between fishermen and observers is sometimes difficult, and fishermen have long complained the monitoring program heaps costs on them.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has adopted new monitoring rules for Northeast fishermen of groundfish, like haddock and flounder, to try to improve the accuracy of the data. The fishermen harvest some of the most popular seafood species in the country, and the data are used to craft fishing regulations.

The monitoring rules include a plan to reimburse the fishing industry for at-sea monitoring costs in the 2022 fishing year. It also includes a plan to increase the percentage of fishing trips that include monitoring coverage from 80% to 100% for the next four years. That rule would hold as long as funds appropriated by Congress can support government and industry costs, the National Marine Fisheries Service said.

The expansion of at-sea monitoring has generated some pushback from fishing interests. The Northeast Seafood Coalition, which represents commercial fishing groups, argued that more information was needed to show that increased monitoring would improve management of fisheries.

The fisheries service disagreed, and said the increased monitoring is especially important because some valuable species of fish are in decline. The agency is in the midst of a drive to rebuild the collapsed Atlantic cod stock, for example.

“Improved monitoring will contribute to determining the level of interaction between the fishery and stocks,” the fisheries service said in a response to industry concerns that was published in the Federal Register.

The new monitoring plan also includes the approval of new electronic monitoring technologies to serve as an alternative to workers on board, the fisheries service said. The plan also requires periodic evaluation of the monitoring program.

Several conservation groups came out in support of expanding use of electronic monitoring. The Conservation Law Foundation cited the method as a way to reduce the cost of monitoring.

The new plan doesn't require adoption of electronic monitoring, but rather provides it as a choice. Several companies are currently looking to help U.S. fishermen comply with the new rules using new tech.


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