The open letter sent last week by NOAA acknowledged ongoing disagreement over whether fish species truly are in dire condition and how much blame goes to fishermen, scientists or regulators. But it emphasized directing concerns to regulators rather than observers and at-sea monitors.
‘‘They work hard to accomplish difficult jobs and they bear no responsibility for the predicament in which we find ourselves,’’ said the letter, whose signees included Bullard.
At-sea observers monitor both the catch of prime fish and the discard of unmarketable fish. The program is expensive, with fishermen often noting the cost of observers is sometimes more than their profit per trip. But Cunningham noted the observers are employed by private contractors. In addition, the government has paid for the observers since 2010, and will cover the projected $6.7 million cost this year.
The observers are often recent college graduates with a concentration in biology and can be green at sea in more ways than one, as stories about seasickness are common. Gloucester fishermen have also complained in the past about monitors who have broken vessels’ electronic equipment and failed to understand their mission. One monitor showed up at a Gloucester pier with eight suitcases for a dayboat groundfishing trip, fishermen said.
Gloucester fisherman Joe Orlando, a 40-year veteran, said he doesn’t mind taking out observers, as long as the government pays, because he can’t afford it. He said it frustrates him that a kid who knows almost nothing about a fishing boat can climb on his and declare it unsafe.
Orlando said he hasn’t heard about increasing confrontations between observers, captains or crew, but understands why they encounter resentment among fishermen facing ruin.
‘‘You’ve got to understand something, we’re all out of a job,’’ Orlando said. ‘‘They’ve still got a job.’’
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
''You've got to understand something, we're all out of a job. They've still got a job.'' Joe Orlando, Gloucester fisherman