It is, as our federal lawmakers all noted, good news to learn the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service will cover the cost of the on-board monitors who now regularly keep tabs on the catches hauled in by fishermen by joining them on their trips.
But while all went out of their way to hail NOAA’s decision over the weekend, let’s not forget that to force these costs upon Northeast fishermen — as the agency had, at one point threatened — would have amounted to an obscene unfunded mandate on the backs of an industry already well over a year into a recognized “economic disaster” that is, in large part, of NOAA’s own making.
NOAA officials should now also keep their eyes and ears open to considering scientific data that clearly justifies the opening of previously closed areas for the new fishing year to begin May 1. And neither NOAA, the council nor our federal lawmakers should lose sight of the need to reform the Magnuson-Stevens Act as that moves toward potential reauthorization, as well.
NOAA’s coverage of the monitoring cost is a victory for the Massachusetts congressional delegation, notably for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who had pushed for a coverage plan in a meeting just a week earlier with NOAA’s acting administrator, Kathryn Sullivan. And it’s an encouraging sign for the New England Fishery Management Council, which all too often has its own votes and recommendations cast aside by NOAA’s Northeast administrators.
But this can hardly be seen as a boon to Gloucester’s and New England’s fishermen. It is, in fact, a true and just move that merely avoids socking fishermen with one more hefty cost to do business — a cost that no doubt would have pushed the industry closer, yet, to its own death knell.