Category Archives: Monitoring

Electronic monitoring is improving fishery management across the country

EMWorkshop2014

In previous fishery monitoring posts we explored a variety of obstacles to collecting accurate and timely data from vessels in the Chesapeake Bay, West Coast and New England fisheries. These fisheries don’t just have monitoring challenges in common. They also share a solution: each region is piloting an electronic monitoring (EM) or electronic reporting (ER) system intended to make data collection more comprehensive, flexible and affordable. These are not the only regions exploring how new technologies can be integrated into fishery monitoring plans.  In fact, all eight of the U.S. fishery management regions have, or are currently testing EM or ER tools.

In 2013, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation awarded a Fisheries Innovation Grant to Dorothy Lowman to convene a National Electronic Monitoring Workshop.  Lowman is a natural resource consultant and Chair of the Pacific Fishery Management Council.  EDF cosponsored the workshop, viewing it as a linchpin in bringing fishery leaders together to identify common challenges, and common solutions, to monitoring—one of the most important elements of fisheries management. The workshop facilitated information exchange across regions and helped address outstanding challenges in implementing cost-effective monitoring systems. After more than seven months of planning by a Steering Committee that included fishing industry, managers, monitoring companies and EDF, the National EM Workshop was held January 8th and 9th in Seattle, Washington.   More than 150 fishery managers and stakeholders from across the country attended the workshop along with select representatives from Canada, Denmark and Australia.

The workshop included a technology showcase and poster displays, topic-driven breakout sessions, fishery and gear type-specific sessions, and plenary sessions with a diverse panel of speakers.   Ms. Lowman created a website (www.EMinformation.com) to highlight key takeaways of the workshop and provide a forum to coordinate and share information regarding monitoring activities in different regions.

Feedback from the workshop has been overwhelmingly positive.  One attendee felt renewed enthusiasm for pursuing EM/ER in his region. Another attendee remarked that many of the major players are now on the same page with understanding EM and its possibilities.

We’re proud of the workshop outcomes and look forward to sharing lessons learned from the workshop with our partners across the eight U.S. fisheries regions and internationally.  To learn more about EDF’s work on Electronic Monitoring visit our Monitoring Fisheries Electronically webpage.

 

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Electronic Monitoring and Accountability in the Chesapeake Proves Effective

MD Blue Crab Design Team member and active EM pilot project participant, David Kirwin, uses a tablet to submit daily harvest reports from his boat Photo Credit: Ward Slacum

MD Blue Crab Design Team member and active EM pilot project participant, David Kirwin, uses a tablet to submit daily harvest reports from his boat
Photo Credit: Ward Slacum

Discussion about innovation, trends and shortfalls in fisheries monitoring tends to focus on large, off-shore fisheries in New England, Alaska and the Pacific.  Those regions are home to multi-species fisheries, with complex biological interactions, and are targeted by large boats that result in sizeable discards of “non-target” fish.  Monitoring technologies, both human and electronic, are essential to reduce this waste.  Smaller scale fisheries, however, have just as much need for improved electronic monitoring and accountability measures.

Not surprisingly, blue crab is the most valuable fishery in the Chesapeake Bay.  And it’s about as complex as they come.  More than 7,000 watermen deploy small boats from thousands of waterfront access points and are regulated by three different management jurisdictions, all of which use antiquated reporting systems.

As reported on this blog before, commercial crabbers in Maryland have tested mobile technologies, like smart phones and tablets, to report and verify daily harvest.  In 2012 and 2013, volunteers used these various technologies and provided constructive feedback to Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) to improve its monitoring and reporting system.  Overall, participants in the two-year pilot are pleased with mobile technology tools and the web-based reporting platform, which along with dockside spot checks, have improved reporting accuracy and timeliness, according to fisheries managers.  As part of the 2013 pilot, fisheries managers offered limited regulatory flexibility for pilot volunteers in order to encourage participation and demonstrate how improved accountability can lead to streamlined regulations.

In Virginia, crabbers are embracing electronic harvest accountability, thanks to participants in Maryland’s first pilot who traveled to Virginia to discuss their experiences and success. Since then, Virginia’s Blue Crab Industry Panel has partnered with Virginia Sea Grant, EDF and Virginia’s Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) to alert Virginia watermen about how to utilize an existing web-based reporting platform. In only a few months, VMRC noted an increase in online-based reports from watermen.

Without the efforts of the commercial crabbing industry in both states, accountability improvements may not have been made.  Chesapeake watermen are proving that they are problem solvers by nature, are invested in their fishery and willing to adopt new measures to modernize harvest reporting.

As crabbers in both Maryland and Virginia demonstrate success with electronic monitoring and harvest accountability, there is little doubt that such measures will spread to other fisheries within the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding states.  And that’s good for watermen who save time and gain flexibility; fisheries managers who can make more informed and timely decisions; and scientists who receive more reliable data.

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Monitoring with an eye towards cost-effectiveness in the Pacific Groundfish fishery

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Define your terms.  A clear definition and expectation of what constitutes “catch” and “discard” is necessary to accurately compare EM and observer collected data.
  4. 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.
  5. Size matters.  Knowing the dimensions of the vessel and fishing gear can assist data reviewers in calculating volumetric estimates of catch.

 

Next Steps:

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.

 

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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. Read More »

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Electronic Monitoring: A Roadmap to Efficient & Effective Fisheries Management

Fisheries Monitoring Roadmap

Successful fisheries management is dependent upon timely data collection and analysis.  A robust monitoring program will provide data on catch, specify gear use and evaluate bycatch for fishery stakeholders and managers, which in turn, support and improve stock assessments and ensure catch limits are both optimized and sustainable in the long-term.  Monitoring is a necessary component of accurate catch accounting, yet comes with costs which can be a barrier to implementation.  EDF is working to establish cost-effective monitoring programs in the United States, using a multifaceted approach including electronic monitoring, electronic reporting, on-board observers, logbooks, dockside catch accounting and other tools.  The Fisheries Monitoring Roadmap is a guide developed by a working group of fisheries stakeholders facilitated by EDF to help realize this goal.

As fishery managers and other stakeholders look to new and emerging technologies to meet fishery monitoring and data needs, it is important to recognize that incorporating EM into a fishery monitoring program is a multi-step process that must be tailored to the specific needs of the fishery, fleet and often individual vessels.  The Fishery Monitoring Roadmap outlines the differences between monitoring tools, and matches them with clearly identified management and monitoring goals, ultimately allowing for the optimization of fishery monitoring programs.

The “Roadmap” is essentially a multi-stage, ‘how-to’ manual for developing or revising a fishery monitoring program.  Additionally, the Roadmap provides anecdotes and case studies highlighting trade-offs that must be considered when selecting among various fishery monitoring tools.  In order to provide the context, background and resources stakeholders may need, the Roadmap includes the following five complementary sections:

  1. A step-by-step process for evaluating, designing and implementing a fishery monitoring program;
  2. A table/matrix that matches fishery data needs with an assessment of the ability of monitoring tools to meet those needs;
  3. A comparison and evaluation of viability and trade-offs (such as cost and accuracy of data) of different monitoring tools;
  4. A list of studies, papers and reports related to electronic monitoring; and
  5. Case studies demonstrating how similar fisheries are implementing different monitoring tools and outlining some of the associated costs.

Although electronic monitoring technologies are being implemented in a number of other countries, the use of electronic monitoring systems in U.S. fisheries is limited. Several fisheries across the country are considering electronic monitoring approaches, and are evaluating technical requirements necessary to ensure effective deployment.  Concurrently, many of the Regional Fishery Management Councils are beginning to explore how electronic monitoring tools can be integrated within existing monitoring frameworks to meet specific data needs.  Next January a national workshop of key technical experts, decision makers and stakeholders will produce updated technical, logistical and policy recommendations.

This is the first in a series of blog posts focusing on electronic monitoring.  Future posts will include snapshots of fisheries in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico, highlighting challenges, needs and electronic monitoring research currently underway in each of these regions.  A European Union fishery currently using electronic monitoring systems for catch accounting will also be profiled to demonstrate functionality once fully implemented.  Finally, we will conclude the series with a summary of the outcomes and key takeaways from the national electronic monitoring workshop in January.

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Maintaining fishery accountability while reducing costs for fishermen

No Overfishing Guaranteed LabelThe Pacific Fishery Management Council took a significant step last week when they voted for the first time to move forward with a formal process to scope, set performance standards and eventually implement electronic monitoring for the West Coast Groundfish Individual Fishing Quota (catch share) fishery.  Why is that important?

The West Coast catch share program is now in its third year of operation, and one of its chief characteristics is that it is “100% Federally Monitored – No Overfishing Guaranteed.” An authorized third-party observer who tracks the catch and ensures that all fish are accounted for accompanies each groundfish trip. West Coast fishermen are committed to the full accountability provided by observers, but they are struggling under the added costs that the federal monitoring requirement places on them. Electronic monitoring is seen as a way to save on costs, increase fishermen’s ability to time their trips to weather conditions and market opportunities, and improve safety.

That’s why EDF has been working with fishery managers, fishery enforcement personnel and NMFS to encourage development of cost-effective ways to gradually replace human observers with onboard cameras and supporting software systems. Last week’s Council vote was a milestone, and EDF joins with West Coast fishermen in thanking Council members for taking this well-considered and vital step.

 

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Sound Fisheries Management is No Fluke

 

Summer Flounder

photo credit: Michael McDonough via photopin cc

Recently a US Senate subcommittee held a hearing entitled “Developments and Opportunities in US Fisheries Management,” with testimony by federal, regional and state officials that focused on the need for collaboration in fisheries management and decision-making based on sound science.  More than two and a half hours of testimony and questioning by Senators focused on the role of science and the Magnuson Stevens Act in effective management of our nation’s fisheries, especially summer flounder or “fluke.” 

New York and New Jersey have long been embroiled in an interstate conflict over what New York Senator Chuck Schumer has called “our decades long fight to bring fairness, flexibility, and accountability into the management of summer flounder.”  To that point, a reoccurring theme in the testimony was that effective fisheries management requires high quality data and regular stock assessments.  This notion was also echoed at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing a week earlier.

What is clear in the early hours of debating MSA’s reauthorization is that stakeholders across the board are focused on a common top priority – simply, good science is fundamental to good management.  This reality is at the core of the interstate summer flounder battle, with NY arguing that the use of outdated data has led to an unequal allocation of fish between states.

Fluke is an important species.  Managed jointly by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, the 2012 stock assessment indicated that it is not overfished and that overfishing is not occurring.  Fishery managers have allocated 60% of the fluke harvest to the commercial fishery and 40% to the recreational fishery.  While the commercial quota is allocated between the states based on historical commercial landings (a common practice), the recreational harvest targets are assigned proportionally to the states based on estimated harvest data in 1998 using a data collection method called the Marine Recreational Fisheries Statistics Survey (MRFSS).  Herein lies the cause of conflict.  MRFSS is antiquated and is actively being replaced. It is considered largely unreliable by anglers up and down the East Coast and limited in efficacy by managers, and 1998 was 15 years ago.  I’m willing to bet the characteristics of the fleet and the fishery have also changed significantly over that time. Read More »

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Partnering with Maryland Watermen in Electronic Catch Accounting Pilot

While winter around the Chesapeake Bay is known for oysters and striped bass, summertime means blue crabs. If you enjoyed steamed crabs from Maryland this summer, you may have consumed crabs harvested by watermen involved in a ground-breaking test of technology to improve long-term blue crab management.

The Maryland Blue Crab Accountability Pilot program – a collaborative effort among commercial watermen called the Blue Crab Design Team, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and other partners – was designed to test electronic daily harvest reporting in order to gather more accurate and timely harvest information. From mid-July through the end of Maryland’s commercial crabbing season in mid-November, some 50 commercial crabbers, ranging in age from 25 – 75, tested the use of hand-held technologies like cell phones, smartphones and tablets, to report blue crab harvest daily.

Sustainable fisheries management requires sound science and accurate harvest and effort information. Current reporting relies on monthly paper reports and manual data entry that can take months to process. Daily electronic harvest reporting can improve the accuracy of harvest data, and result in real-time harvest information for in-season management decision-making. Read More »

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