June 24, 2018  
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Proposed NOAA cuts are alarming
Proposed NOAA cuts are alarming

Proposals could have major impact on Maine fishermen
BY NATHAN STROUT, Times Record Staff

Maine’s fishing communities are concerned over cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including the elimination of the Sea Grant program, proposed in a budget memo by the Trump administration.

“If the cuts that are being suggested are real, it’s putting fishermen in danger, it’s cutting some of the programs that are really important for the long-term sustainability of our resources, and it’s something that we would highly recommend that the president and Congress reconsider,” said Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.

The memo, which was revealed by the Washington Post last week, shows a 17 percent cut in funding to NOAA and the outright elimination of several programs.

While the memo does not contain deep cuts to the fisheries branch of NOAA, said Martens, the proposed cuts would have a major impact on Maine fishermen’s work. The cuts to NOAA target the agency’s research programs as well as 22 percent of its satellite division, which is used to track climate and environmental data.

“Fishermen rely heavily on having up-to-date, current and accurate weather data,” he said. “That’s a huge concern for any fishermen — making sure we have good weather data, that we understand what is happening out on the ocean.”

Additionally, the proposed budget for NOAA eliminates the Sea Grant program, a national network of 33 colleges, including the University of Maine, that conduct research and work with commercial fisheries to understand their fisheries and the challenges that face them. The program hosts educational programs and scholarships fund research concerning the unique problems facing coastal and marine resources, such as coastal erosion, sea level rise and ocean acidification.

“Sea Grant sponsors science to answer questions like those, but we also have an extension team presence. So I have a team of 10 of us who live and work along the coast of Maine with people on these issues,” said Paul Anderson, director of the Maine Sea Grant College Program. “We’re really a kind of boots-on-the-ground organization that is anchored at the University of Maine, but we’re distributed.”

The Maine Sea Grant College Program receives $1.2 million of the Sea Grant program’s annual federal budget of $73 million. Yet the financial impact of the Sea Grant program on coastal Maine is much larger than just the federal money it receives, said Anderson.

“Here in Maine, we get $1.2 million of that money from NOAA each year, and I match that with at least $600,000 of non-federal support,” said Anderson. “Our return on investment here at the university is around 7 to 1 compared to what I’m able to leverage that money against.”

Martens notes that the climate data accumulated and analyzed by NOAA helps fishermen understand the changes that are impacting the Gulf of Maine. Understanding how warming ocean temperatures and increasing acidification affect fishing stocks is necessary for Maine fishermen to react to long-term trends along the Maine coast and plan for the future.

“If we’re not putting money into climate change research and understanding what’s happening in warming oceans ... that means we’re kind of putting our heads in the sand and ignoring a problem and hoping it goes away as opposed to planning on how to anticipate and adjust and adapt to a future that is more than likely coming,” said Martens. “We can’t really build businesses and plan for a future of sustainable fishing in Maine if we aren’t exploring those types of things.”

“So if we’re cut, all that stuff would be gone, and that’s been a big concern,” said Anderson.

Last week, Anderson met with most of Maine’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. and said that they expressed their opposition to the cuts. Anderson was unsure of the position of Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, who he was unable to meet with. Poliquin’s office did not respond to a request for his position on the proposed cuts.

On Friday, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, wrote a letter to the Office of Management and Budget urging them to reconsider the proposed cuts. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, cosigned the letter along with three others.

“We know that the administration faces difficult choices as it prioritizes federal resources,” wrote the senators. “However, the president has identified national security and job creation as two of his key priorities and pursuing drastic cuts to NOAA would increase vulnerability to atmospheric, environmental and coastal hazards, and decrease support for job creation, running directly counter to those goals.”

It remains to be seen whether the cuts will appear in the White House’s final budget proposal.


Posted on Wednesday, March 15, 2017 (Archive on Wednesday, April 5, 2017)
Posted by Jym St. Pierre   Contributed by Jym St. Pierre

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