Baker, Congressional delegation write to NOAA to fund fish monitors

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Written by Matt Murphy

A week after calling the policy “ridiculous” and “outrageous” while in Gloucester, Gov. Charlie Baker sent a letter signed by the state’s all-Democrat Congressional delegation to the United States commerce secretary and Congressional leaders urging the federal government to pay for at-sea monitors on boats that would otherwise fall to fishermen.

Baker has sharply criticized the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association for its new policy set to take effect in October that would require fishermen to cover the cost of the observers, who periodically join boat captains and their crews to measure the fish hauled up from the seafloor.

In the letter sent Thursday, Baker said the new mandate would cost the groundfish industry about $2.64 million in the first year, or about $710 a day. “To shift the cost of this ineffective program onto the fishery just as the industry begins to rebuild is not only imprudent, but irresponsible,” Baker wrote.

The governor suggested that NOAA was “misinterpreting” the intent of Congress for NOAA to pay for at-sea monitoring, and said the expansion the program to the Northeast lobster fishery was being done “without properly factoring the impacts…to the long-term economic viability of the lobster industry in Massachusetts.”

Political leaders representing coastal communities that depend on the fishing industry have routinely opposed NOAA in recent years as the agency has taken steps to impose stricter limits on catches and new regulations aimed at helping to replenish depleted fish and lobster stock in the region’s waters.

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Critics have questioned the science behind the federal government fish surveys, and Baker in his letter again urged NOAA to partner with the fishing community and Bay State researchers who are trying to develop more accurate methods for taking stock of fish populations.

Baker and Massachusetts Congressional lawmakers also said they were “troubled” that NOAA has suggested tapping into federal disaster aid for the fishing industry to pay for at-sea monitoring that was intended by Congress to be used for “the future viability of the fishing industry.”

“Using this money to make up for NOAA’s reinterpretation of how to prioritize funding is far afield from the intent for which this money was appropriated, and would only help NOAA’s ability to fund their own budget gap, which hardly relates to the viability of the fishermen of Massachusetts,” Baker wrote.

Copyright State House News Service