Under New England’s sector management regime, groundfishermen are expected to accommodate federally funded fisheries ‘observers’ on 30% of the trips conducted within each individual sector. These observers are supposed to record what is caught and sold; record the weights of groundfish that are discarded in order to credit the fisherman’s allocation; and record all ‘by-catch’ to determine levels of incidental take. We have all fished with observers before sector management and while they are a bit of a nuisance it really is not that big a deal to have them aboard. 30% of the time.
As of late, Jane and the folks at NOAA have been happy to declare that sector management has created a more consistent job market for fishermen. I, for one, was quite happy to hear that because I was beginning to wonder where all of the fishermen went. Well, Scott and I untied the mighty Ashley and Anthony on February 17th for its FIRST fishing trip of the season (May 1st 2010-April 30 of 2011 is considered to be the 2010 season). On nine of our first ten trips, we have been assigned observers. It seemed like a bit more than 30% to me, so I began to inquire. Wouldn’t you know it, but the observers can’t seem to find any fishermen to observe. They, under their contracts, are supposed to complete 13 days of observation per month. Seems easy enough. However, our lovely young lady today informed us that she was able to complete only 5 this month. Her friend was even less successful, completing only 2.
It seems somewhat ironic to me that on the heels of a scandal that saw its enforcement division purchasing more vehicles than it had employees, NOAA seems to have ‘purchased’ more observers than there were boats for them to observe. Or did they just under-estimate how fast they could force fishermen to not fish and then choose to ignore the fact that a majority of the fleet is collecting dust?