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New fishing rule: All commercial trips for cod, haddock, and more will be monitored to improve species recovery

Commercial fishing boats in New Bedford harbor
S Junker
Commercial fishing boats in New Bedford harbor

All commercial fishing trips in New England for many popular species, including cod, haddock and flounder, will soon require on-board monitoring — either by cameras or an in-person monitor — to make sure the catch is counted accurately.

The National Marine Fisheries Service made the announcement Tuesday at a regional fisheries meeting in Connecticut.

Supporters say Amendment 23, first proposed several years ago, will eliminate problems with the count.

One example is when a vessel catches too much of a tightly controlled species — often cod — and dumps the dead fish overboard, so the vessel can keep fishing, said Gib Brogan, fisheries campaign director at Oceana.

“If we're counting all of the dead fish, ... that's going to ensure that we're not killing too many,” he said. “And if we can abide by those catch limits, the fish stocks should recover.”

Many fishermen submitted testimony opposing 100 percent monitoring. They said it would be a burden, a violation of privacy, and a needless expense. In recent years, between 20 and 40 percent of trips have been monitored.

For now, fishing companies won’t have to pay.

Allison Ferreira, a spokeswoman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said the government has committed to fund the monitoring for at least two years, and vessel operators can choose between electronic and in-person monitoring.

The policy to monitor 100 percent of groundfish trips lasts four years if funding is available. After that, coverage drops to 40 percent of trips.

Allison Lorenc, a senior policy analyst at the Conservation Law Foundation, said 40 percent is not enough.

“There's something known as the observer effect,” she said. “Fishermen can actually alter their behavior when an observer is on board their vessel.”

During the rule-making process, some fishermen objected to the idea that they would act differently without monitoring.

The new rule won’t take effect in time for the start of the new fishing year May 1. The National Marine Fisheries Service has to officially publish the rule before it can take effect.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.