Positive signs on observer cost-relief for West Coast trawl fishermen

NOAA's Eric Schwaab testifies at PFMC meeting; lawmakers prepare strong letter of support

For immediate release: November 2, 2011
Contact: Scott Coughlin - (206) 228-4141 - scott@fieldworkcommunications.com

NOAA Associate Administrator for Fisheries Eric Schwaab today provided welcome testimony at a meeting of the Pacific Fishery Management Council. Acknowledging the difficulty that many West Coast trawl fishermen face in absorbing new costs associated with 100% observer coverage, Schwaab's remarks indicated a commitment on the part of NOAA to help fishermen as they approach their second season under catch shares.

From Eric Schwaab's remarks to the Council:

It is critical that we maintain momentum with this fishery to increase net economic benefits, create economic stability, provide full utilization of the trawl sector allocation, and promote conservation through individual accountability for catch and bycatch. It is also critical that we support your vision and efforts to retain fleet diversity and protect fishery dependent communities.

We recognize, like you do, that a smooth and effective transition may take longer than one year. We are looking now at emerging economic data that suggests that the current schedule for  absorption of monitoring costs may have unintended consequences. Reduced supplemental funding for monitoring costs may have greater economic impact than expected in these first years of the program, especially for the small vessels in the fishery.

Based on these emerging data and accompanying concerns, we are looking to maintain our support for monitoring costs at a level similar to last year, subject to appropriations. We must also recognize that continued high level of Federal support for the long-term is untenable and must be based on the economic performance of the fishery. We must therefore transition to a permanent solution.

I encourage all of us in the Council community to continue exploring longer- term solutions, including innovative costs reductions such as electronic monitoring.

Geoff Bettencourt, a fourth-generation fisherman from Half Moon Bay, California, took Schwaab's testimony as a signal that NOAA Administrator Jane Lunchenco had heard concerns of West Coast fishermen and was responding. “So far, the IFQ program is working well for me and fishermen I know. But not knowing our observer costs was really stressful. Thank you to NOAA for making this commitment, it’s a huge relief and will help us plan our coming fishing year.”

David Jincks, a Newport, Oregon-based fisherman and president of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, was also at the Council meeting. "We want to thank NOAA for recognizing that while fishermen are doing well in this new fishery, the adjustment takes time. This is a great investment in the long term success of the fishery and the fishermen who depend on it."

Also today, members of Congress (Representative Lois Capps, Representative Sam Farr, Senator Patty Murray and Senator Ron Wyden) are circulating for signatures among West Coast lawmakers a letter to the Secretary of Commerce urging a more gradual ramping-up of observer costs to West Coast fishermen.

The lawmakers' letter commends West Coast fishermen for their commitment to full accountability and provides a reminder of the disparity between levels of cost-support for fishermen on the West Coast as compared to other regions. It also calls upon NOAA to "set a strong mandate to create and implement new and more cost effective approaches to monitoring this fishery."

Full text of the letter is below.

*  *  *

Letter Being Circulated

November ___, 2011

The Honorable John Bryson

Secretary

U.S. Department of Commerce

1401 Constitution Avenue, NW Room 5516

Washington, D.C. 20230-0002

 

Dear Secretary Bryson:

As Members of the Washington, Oregon and California Congressional delegations, we would like to extend our most sincere congratulations to you on your recent confirmation as Secretary of Commerce. We are also writing to urge your continued support for the West Coast groundfish trawl industry. Specifically, we write in strong support of funding for the costs of fisheries observer coverage.

As you know, many of our fishermen are struggling to stay on the water. Faced with rising fuel costs, dwindling stocks, and aging infrastructure, many fishermen are being forced to turn away from their fishing heritage, with historic fishing communities vanishing in their wake. Despite this general decline, some fishermen are taking the difficult, but necessary, steps to help rebuild fish stocks and restore our working waterfronts. We fully support helping these fishermen get back on their feet so that they can help revitalize working waterfronts, continue to provide fresh seafood for communities across the country, and contribute to our nation’s longstanding fishing heritage.

We are proud to say that our fishermen on the West Coast have stepped up, reluctantly at times, to accept and now embrace changes to the fishery associated with the move to a catch shares management protocol. Today, it is clear that taking these steps is paying off. Fishermen are seeing higher prices for several key groundfish species, bycatch is being significantly reduced, and fishermen are developing creative and effective mechanisms for dealing with choke species and other challenges. Although our fishermen are seeing positive results from switching to catch shares, they still have a way to go before they can become entirely self-sufficient under this new system and require some assistance to help ease the transition.

In addition to implementing the catch shares management protocol, West Coast fishermen have employed 100 percent observer coverage. This amount of coverage helps to ensure a high level of integrity across the fleet and aids with scientific data collection, resulting in more informed stock management decisions. During these challenging economic times, it is our understanding that West Coast fishermen will continue to assume a growing share of these observer costs into the future. This stands in contrast to other regions, which have only a fraction of that coverage and of which 100 percent of that cost is covered by NOAA.

In the interest of fairness, we are asking that the West Coast fishermen’s share of observer coverage for FY12 not exceed 20 percent, and that the agency dedicate $3.9 million in FY12 to cover the balance of the observer costs. While this would be a reduction from the 50 percent share that some had proposed last year, it would still be a doubling of the current 10 percent and much more consistent with the policy applied to fishermen in other regions.

For many small scale fishermen, the significant cost burden of observer coverage is enough to price them out of the industry. Therefore, we would also like to take the opportunity to encourage NOAA to set a strong mandate to create and implement new and more cost effective approaches to monitoring this fishery. Our districts contain many smaller scale fishing communities that have traditionally supported local economies with their catch of groundfish. In order to ensure that we preserve the diversity of these fishermen and communities, we must develop more affordable monitoring methods by incorporating modern technologies, like video cameras, and by adopting the best monitoring practices that have worked in other fisheries. Again, we encourage NOAA to create an agency mandate and set aside the funding necessary to modernize our fishery monitoring systems to achieve greater efficiencies and affordability.

We stand in full support of delivering the necessary resources to our West Coast fishermen, and look forward to working with you to ensure that our nation’s fisheries policies remain fair and equitable across all regions.

 

Sincerely,

 

LOIS CAPPS                                                 RON WYDEN                                  

Member of Congress                                       United States Senator            

 

 

SAM FARR                                                    PATTY MURRAY

Member of Congress                                       United States Senator