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Regulators Move to Increase At-Sea Monitoring of Groundfish Catch in New England Waters

This on-board camera is fliming activities on a fishing vessel. Technologies like this and new softrware capable of identifying and measuring different fish species may supplement human fishery observers.

New England fishing regulators have approved a plan that would significantly increase at-sea monitoring for groundfish trips, as a way to help inform scientists and stocks managers about what’s being caught in area waters.

The plan calls for in-person observers or video monitoring on up to 100 percent of trips made by fishermen who target cod, flounder, haddock, and other groundfish.

For the first four years, nearly all costs are expected to be covered by the federal government and other organizations to avoid financially burdening fishermen. But if the full costs aren’t covered beyond that point, the monitoring level could drop back to the current 40 percent, paid for, at least in part, by fishermen. The new plan calls for reevaluation of costs and other considerations in the fifth year.

The plan was endorsed by the New England Fishery Management Council but still requires additional federal approvals before taking effect.

Chris McGuire, marine program director with the Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts, said that while a 40 percent monitoring rate may have been adequate in the past, a 100 percent monitoring target is needed to manage the fishery going forward.  

“We’re just not going to be able to manage the fishery without this,” he said. “So I think this is a really strong step to get the fishery kind of on its feet but also to make it more resilient to the continuing effects of climate change.”

The fishing industry has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, which has made it harder for them to sell their catch. 

For years, environmentalists have lamented the low monitoring rate, which they say creates a lack of accountability for fishermen. More monitoring will help ensure that fishermen accurately account for the haul they unload at the dock and are not improperly discarding fish that might exceed their quotas.

“I support that 100 percent as long as for the whole period of time you got up there, we don’t have to pay for that,” said Joe Orlando of Gloucester, who’s caught lobster for 44 years. 

“For people to say that we’re ruining this fishery is irresponsible. It’s not true,” he said. “I just want to make a strong impression on this by saying the guys that are left right now fishing, they are not ruining this fishery.” 

The plan will be sent to the Fisheries Service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), before a final monitoring rule is released.


Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.