Alaska's Congressional Delegation today sent a letter to Dr. Jane Lubchenco -- the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator -- making the case that Alaska's waters should receive the funds necessary to improve operations, while similar endeavors are being funded on an ongoing basis in New England and on the West Coast.
"You have made commitments to fund observers in other regions while they transition to catch share programs," wrote the delegation. "We are concerned funding observers in these regions might jeopardize your ability to provide start up funds for the restructured North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program. Meanwhile, the burden imposed on fishermen in Alaska's small boats and 60 --foot to 125-foot vessel fleets would be unwarranted."
In 2010, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) expanded its Groundfish Observer Program to better manage the fisheries and provide more accurate baseline data to inform policy decisions like catch and bycatch estimates. While the direct costs of deploying added fishery observers will be funded by the industry in all subsequent years, $3.8 million in transition costs needed -- similar to support given the West Coast Groundfish Trawl Catch Share Program and the Northeast Multispecies Sector Catch Share Program in the FY12 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill.
The letter from the delegation is attached.
Dear Dr. Lubchenco:
Observer data is necessary to fulfill NOAA's responsibility to manage fisheries in our nation's marine waters. In an effort to improve its Groundfish Observer Program, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) took action in October 2010 to expand the program to previously unobserved fleets and provide the agency flexibility to deploy observers in a manner which satisfies standards for randomized placement. The program is expected to improve baseline data to support future decision making and requirements for annual catch limits and accountability measures.
The direct costs of deploying fishery observers under the NPFMC's Groundfish Observer Program have been industry-funded, pay-as-you-go. The restructured program will also be funded by industry but requires start up funds to transition from the current program. Lacking federal funding in the first year, fishermen would have to pay for coverage under the existing program while being assessed a fee to support future observer coverage under the new program. It would also delay implementation of the new program for at least one year and prolong expected improvements in catch and bycatch estimates and annual catch limit management.
You have made commitments to fund observers in other regions while they transition to catch share programs. We are concerned funding observers in these other regions might jeopardize your ability to provide start up funds for the restructured North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program. This would impose an unwarranted burden on fishermen in Alaska's small boat and 60-foot to 125-foot vessel fleets.
We believe $3.8 million in start up funding for the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program is essential to transition to the improved program. The NPTFMC has embraced science-based decision making in managing fisheries resources off Alaska and this program is expected to advance the quality of data informing their management decisions. We urge you to provide adequate funds to North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.