NOAA’s court ruling claim is a fish story

To the editor:

In NH Business Review’s April 1-14 article, “At-sea monitoring fees are the latest threat to NH’s dwindling fishing industry,” NOAA deputy assistant administrator Samuel Rauch claimed that the federal government could not fund the special at-sea monitoring program for the groundfish fishery because “the court found that we have to spend the money on other priorities before we spend it on at-sea monitoring.”

But the court case was not about the special at-sea monitoring program. Oceana sued the government in 2008 because NOAA defied Congress’ directive to establish a “standardized methodology” for monitoring bycatch for all fisheries.

Here is what the court really said: “When a statute commands an agency without qualification to carry out a particular program in a particular way, the agency’s duty is clear; if it believes the statute untoward in some respect, then ‘it should take its concerns to Congress,’ for ‘[i]n the meantime it must obey [the statute] as written.’”

So, in essence, the court told NOAA and Mr. Rauch to start complying with the law. It did not tell them that they could use the case as an excuse to cut funding for the special at-sea monitoring program in the groundfish fishery.

Observers on fishing vessels are crucial for monitoring catch and enforcing limits so that fish populations can rebuild in the future and fisheries can stay sustainable. At-sea monitoring is especially important for New England fisheries, which are in big trouble right now. NOAA should adequately monitor all fisheries and stop making excuses. And Mr. Rauch and NOAA should stop blaming Oceana and the courts for the unpopular choices that NOAA makes.

 Eric Bilsky


Washington, D.C.

Categories: Letters to the Editor