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Assessing distributional impacts stemming from a methodological change in the multispecies fishery combined coverage monitoring program
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    Since 2010, the Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (NEFOP) and the At-sea Monitoring Program (ASM) have provided onboard observers to the groundfish fishery. Until recently, both programs allocated observers to trips in the groundfish fishery based on fixed coverage rates to meet required total combined coverage targets, established annually, prior to each fishing year. Beginning in fishing year (FY) 2019, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will use a more sophisticated method for selecting groundfish fishing trips for NEFOP observation. This method will still implement the combined coverage target rate for the groundfish fishery, but will use the Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodology (SBRM) fleet-based stratification to allocate NEFOP coverage rather than a flat rate across sectors. ASM coverage, assigned through Pre‐tripNotificationSystem (PTNS), will be used in conjunction with NEFOP to ensure that sectors achieve their total required combined coverage. Because each sector differs in its SBRM fleet type composition, some sectors will be provided higher levels of NEFOP coverage comparatively to others. Because NEFOP coverage is paid for by NMFS and the ASM program is intended to be industry-funded, this change in selection method may cause cost disparities across sectors in future fishing years. Though it is impossible to predict exactly how the fleet-based NEFOP selection method will affect each sector’s ASM coverage in 2019, this paper aims to estimate the magnitude of these cost disparities by using fishing data from 3 previous years. We conduct a retrospective Monte Carlo analysis that simulates the potential distribution of NEFOP and ASM observers from April 1st 2015 to March 31st 2017 according to the revised FY19 sampling method (i.e., SBRM stratification). To better understand the cost discrepancies across sectors, we also compare these results to cost estimations generated under an alternative flat rate. The simulation results suggest that 3–year average ASM sector costs range from $4.9k to $244.2k—contributing 31-64% of the total cost of combined coverage. We find modest variation in NEFOP coverage across sectors under the SBRM stratification. Though NEFOP coverage appears to be, more or less, uniformly distributed across sectors, some sectors are consistently sampled above, and others below, the median annual NEFOP coverage rate, resulting in cost disparities. Simulation results suggest that, if NEFOP observers were stratified under SBRM, as opposed to distributed equally under a flat rate (modeled as 9%, 6%, and 8% for SBRM years 2015, 2016, and 2017, respectively), aggregate costs would increase for some sectors (1-60%) and decrease for others (1-41%).

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