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Fishermen say they can’t afford to pay monitors

PORTLAND, Maine — New England fishermen of important food species like cod and haddock say the looming cost of paying for at-sea monitors could put them out of business this year.

Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service said the money it had been using to pay for the monitors — trained workers who collect data on fishing trips — will be needed for other obligations. That means groundfishermen who catch fish like cod, haddock, and pollock in New England waters will likely have to start paying the cost around August.

The new expense is coming at a time when it could cripple the fishery, fishermen said. Paying for at-sea monitors can cost fishermen about $800 per trip, which can be nearly half the gross profit of a good haul, they said.


Fishermen said the new expense will compound the costs of necessities like crew, insurance, and fuel in a year that will already be bad for fishing. Among the challenges facing the industry is a quota cut of about 75 percent to Gulf of Maine cod that went into effect on May 1.

Jan Margeson, who fishes out of Chatham and Harwich, said he has fished for 38 years and transitioned to harvesting skates and monkfish as cod became an increasingly difficult species to make a living on. He said he will have to pay for the monitors because he has a groundfish license, and it will be a burden — and a move that shifts hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs from regulators to fishermen.

‘‘It’ll probably bankrupt the fleet when this comes on board if we have to pay this kind of money,’’ Margeson said. ‘‘You’re going to see a lot of boats just stop fishing.’’

NOAA’s current rules state that at-sea monitoring costs were to be put on the industry in 2012, said Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole.


However, the agency continued paying because of ‘‘continuing economic problems’’ in the industry, which has weathered challenges such as quota cuts and low spawning, she said.