In the Pacific, electronic monitoring (EM) research is currently focused on individual accountability of both catch and bycatch in the trawl catch share fishery. Since 2011, vessels in this fishery have been required to carry an on board observer. Additionally, the crew of each vessel operates a vessel monitoring system (VMS), submits logbooks, and reports 100% of landings. This comprehensive program, along with individual fishing quotas (IFQs), has proven to be an effective approach to managing the fishery. This success is evidenced by a decrease in catch of overfished and rebuilding species, as well as a significant reduction in unwanted catch, or “discards.”
Why Electronic Monitoring?
The West Coast Groundfish monitoring program is working well, but its high costs could push some of the smaller vessels out of the fishery, especially those that operate out of remote locations where it is difficult to deploy fisheries observers. EDF’s Pacific Ocean team, along with many other stakeholders, is working with the Pacific Fishery Management Council to identify and approve appropriate electronic monitoring options. The integration of EM into the Pacific groundfish monitoring program is expected to help reduce costs and increase operational flexibility while maintaining high levels of accountability.
Preliminary EM Research Results:
Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSFMC) has overseen EM research with various portions of the groundfish fleet since March 2012. Results of the 2012 research from whiting (midwater trawl) and shoreside groundfish (longline, pot and trap) vessels were released at the Pacific Fisheries Management Council meeting in June 2013, highlighting key factors to be considered to ensure successful deployment of EM, including:
- Hardware makes a difference. Digital cameras (as opposed to analog cameras) facilitate the accurate identification of fish species. Vessels will also need to have an adequate power supply to avoid situations necessitating powering down an EM system during a fishing trip.
- Communication is key. Feedback between data analysts/program managers and the captain/crew is needed to ensure: catch handling protocols are appropriate for the vessel and the camera locations; equipment is properly maintained; and that cameras are not obstructed during fishing operations. This collaboration is essential for developing vessel-specific monitoring plans.
- Define your terms. A clear definition and expectation of what constitutes “catch” and “discard” is necessary to accurately compare EM and observer collected data.
- Data drives it. The duration of a fishing trip and fishing activities will determine the amount of data to be recorded and stored. Knowing data storage needs in advance will ensure hard drive capacity is not exceeded, which can result in the inadvertent loss of data.
- Size matters. Knowing the dimensions of the vessel and fishing gear can assist data reviewers in calculating volumetric estimates of catch.
PSMFC and Archipelago Marine Research are currently working with 14 fishing vessels to continue EM research. Likewise, the Pacific Fishery Management Council is on track to tackle regulatory aspects of implementing EM in the groundfish fishery. Starting this week, the Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting to adopt a range of alternatives for EM regulations, with the goal of implementing electronic monitoring for major segments of the groundfish catch share fishery by January 1, 2015. To accomplish this work, the Council established two ad-hoc EM advisory committees, one of which I serve on along with stakeholders from the Pacific Groundfish fishery. A calendar of the Pacific Council’s EM-related work can be found here.
Although a timeline has been established, much work remains to complete the Pacific regional implementation plan and resolve some of the logistical and political challenges to putting a fully operational EM program in place. Given the importance of fishery-dependent data to fishery management, and the need for cost-efficient means to monitor fishing activities, EDF will continue to support the adoption of EM and other technological solutions in the Pacific and nationally.