Facing pressure from two Massachusetts congressmen, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today it will waive its at-sea monitor requirement for an additional month.

The program has been on hold since late March. NOAA had planned to redeploy mandatory human observers on Greater Atlantic Region fishing vessels on July 1 but now the requirement will resume August 1. The agency said today the move was "in recognition of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic."

The turnaround comes days two days after U.S. Reps. William Keating (MA-04) and Seth Moulton (MA-09) wrote a letter to Neil Jacobs, Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. The two asked NOAA to maintain its waiver to protect the health and safety of fishermen, observers, and others.

"As the pandemic continues, we question how monitors can be redeployed safely and effectively, particularly given the limited space on ships, demographics of the Northeast Fisheries—many fishermen are aged 55 and older—and transience of observers who often travel from region to region and ship to ship," the two wrote.

The at-sea monitor program has been on pause as the fisheries face both economic and health consequences from COVID-19. The program sends human observers on commercial fishing vessels to track fishing harvests and observe conditions within the heavily-regulated industry.

"Observers and at-sea monitors are an essential component of commercial fishing operations and provide critical information that is necessary to keep fisheries open and to provide sustainable seafood to our nation during this time," the agency asserted in today's announcement.

"I haven't heard a single good reason that we can't delay the return of at-sea monitors," Moulton later told reporters. "No one is going to look back 10 years from now and say, 'oh my God, this fish species went extinct because we didn't have the data from July of 2020,'" he added.

Moulton said he would support an indefinite postponement, given that the coronavirus has not gone away and that many public health experts warn of a resurgence in the fall.

NOAA said that during July it will "continue to work with regional observer and at-sea monitoring service providers to finalize their observer redeployment plans, conduct outreach with industry, and finalize our internal programs and policies that will support the safe and effective redeployment of observers and at-sea monitors in the region."

NOAA added that it is "committed to protecting the public health and ensuring the safety of fishermen, observers, and others, while fulfilling our mission to maintain our nation's seafood supply and conserving marine life."

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