Funds Sought for Transition of Observer Program in Alaska

Alaska’s congressional delegation is asking the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to provide $3.8 million in start up funds for the North Pacific Fishery management Council’s restructured groundfish observer program.

The delegation sent a letter to NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco this past week, noting that the restructured program will be funded by the industry, but that it requires start up funds.

Senators Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, with Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said that 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 a year and prolong expected improvements in catch and bycatch estimates and annual catch limit management, they said.

The delegation noted that NOAA has made commitments to fund observers in other regions while the transition to catch share programs. They said they are concerned that funding observers in these other regions might jeopardize NOAA’s ability to provide start-up funds for the restructured North Pacific groundfish observer program, while imposing an unwarranted burden on fishermen in Alaska’s small boats and 60-125 foot vessel fleets.