New England fishermen fight onerous regulations

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PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – New England fishermen, already unhappy with strict limits imposed by the federal government on the amount of certain groundfish they are able to bring in, are facing a new federal fee that could potentially threaten the entire industry.

Since the stringent quotas went into effect in May 2013, many New Hampshire fishermen who previously focused on catching traditional New England fare, such as cod, flounder, and halibut, have shifted their focus to lobsters and scallops, which are less restricted.

But those who continue to fish for groundfish are required by the federal government take at-sea monitors on 20 percent of their trips. The monitors collect data to help determine future fishing quotas. The federal government had been footing the bill for the monitors, but as of March 1, the fishermen are required pay the $600-700 per trip bill themselves.

The fees were imposed over the vociferous objections of New Hampshire’s political leaders. In September, New Hampshire’s Republican senator Kelly Ayotte introduced legislation to terminate the monitoring program unless the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fully funds the program using dollars within its existing budget.

In late February, Gov. Maggie Hassan, Ayotte’s opponent in her re-election bid, sent a letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expressing her “dismay” at the fees, calling them a “devastating burden to New Hampshire’s groundfishing industry,”  and urging the administration to reconsider.

On March 3, Ayotte and New Hampshire’s Democratic senator Jeanne Shaheen participated in the Senate’s Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing on the matter.

“Fishing is an integral part of New Hampshire’s economy and heritage,” Shaheen said after the hearing. “Our struggling small-boat fleet needs relief from onerous federal regulations so New Hampshire’s fishermen can continue to make a living.”

One fisherman, David Goethel, last month told Manchester-based television station WMUR9 that he has lost 95 percent of his cod intake in the past four years and that the new monitoring fees now threaten his livelihood. Goethel is suing the U.S. Department of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, represented by Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group “Cause for Action.”

Massachusetts state legislators are also paying close attention to the issue. Reps. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) and Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester), wrote to Attorney General Maura Healey late last month to ask her to also block the monitoring fees, according to the Gloucester Daily Times. The Attorney General’s office has received the letter and is reviewing it.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.