Effective monitoring is critical for the New England groundfish fishery

[Video credit: Archipelago, NMFS and Frank Mirarchi- FV Barbara Peters]

Collecting timely, accurate and complete information from fishing vessels is fundamental to successful fisheries management.  There is an important nexus between the quantity and quality of data collected by monitoring programs that are used for fisheries science and management that makes it more credible to industry and other stakeholders.

EDF continues to work to improve the performance of New England groundfish sectors by supporting the design and implementation of a cost-effective and comprehensive monitoring program that incorporates the use of electronic monitoring (EM).  The current crisis facing the groundfish fishery with low stock abundance and resulting quota cuts, and high uncertainty of stock assessments, highlights the need to produce reliable fisheries information.

Benefits of electronic monitoring:

Monitoring provides a number of benefits to managers, scientists and industry alike.  A well-designed program enables managers to set and monitor annual catch limits (ACLs) and sector quotas – the foundation of the management system.  The information collected provides managers with a better understanding of the effectiveness and impact of management measures on the fleet.  Monitoring programs can also be an early detector of changing environmental conditions, signaling that a shift in stock abundance or other ecosystem change is occurring, providing managers with an opportunity to respond.

A robust monitoring program allows scientists to better account for total catch and characteristics of the catch to reduce uncertainty in the data needed for reliable stock assessments.  With increasing scientific uncertainty of stock status and distrust of stock assessments by the fishing industry and other stakeholders, monitoring is critically important to improving our understanding and increasing confidence in these assessments.

For industry, monitoring increases participation in management and research and moves towards greater co-management of the fishery.  It also allows industry to improve product traceability and marketing.  And it allows industry to track their quota caught in real-time, an essential element to ensure catch limits are not exceeded.

Overcoming challenges:

In New England, there have been numerous challenges to improving the effectiveness of the groundfish sector monitoring program.  The program is costly and relies on incomplete information with too many assumptions that lead to increased uncertainty and bias in science and management, making it hard for fishermen to operate efficiently.

EDF is collaborating with industry, the New England Fishery Management Council (Council), NOAA and other stakeholders to bring the sector monitoring program into the 21st century by approving the use of EM to improve the effectiveness of the program while reducing costs.

Used in conjunction with traditional data collection methods like onboard observers and dockside monitors, these technologies can achieve comprehensive and cost-effective monitoring.

Increasing momentum and a positive path forward:

There is increasing momentum for EM in the region.  A pilot program is underway in New England testing out the utility of EM to monitor groundfish sectors and account for catch allocation in the fishery.  The recent focus of the pilot is to simulate two EM approaches -monitoring for discard compliance and validation of industry reported data- that hold great promise for implementation.

The Council recently formed an EM working group that will work over the next few months to identify barriers to implementation and consider and develop approaches for sectors to consider.  Based on these findings, the working group will develop recommendations to accelerate EM adoption in the groundfish fishery.

Momentum for EM is continuing to grow and the results from the pilot program and working group are important steps towards providing sectors the ability to design a monitoring program that includes the use of EM to lower costs and improve the program’s effectiveness.  Improving the collection of fishery-dependent data through a robust cost effective fishery monitoring program is fundamental to the long-term management of groundfish sectors.

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