Selected tags: accountability

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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Climate Change is Changing Fisheries

Recently, the impacts of climate change on fisheries have been in the news.  The emphasis has been on the inability of scientists to explain how climate change is affecting fisheries or to fix the problems it seems to be causing.  These include shifting distribution and abundance patterns of commercially valuable fish stocks – shifts that may leave fishermen stranded with very restrictive catch limits, even when they have been doing everything possible to protect and restore their stocks.  These problems are being felt acutely in New England, where catch of some valuable stocks has been highly restricted to rebuild stocks depleted by overfishing – but they face even more restrictions as scientists find less fish in the water, possibly due to migrations induced by climate change.

A better scientific understanding of how climate change influences the distribution and abundance of fish is certainly needed, but that may be less important than the need for more flexible human institutions that can rapidly adjust to those changes.

The fact that we’ve allowed greenhouse gases to accumulate in the atmosphere means that the ocean has warmed too.  The ocean is even more resistant to remediation efforts than the atmosphere due to its enormous thermal inertia.  The ocean will hang on to that heat for decades, resulting in changing temperatures at sea.  Because fish favor certain ranges of temperatures over others, this should cause fish stocks to migrate in pursuit of their favorite temperatures. A new study shows that catch composition has been changing over the last several decades in ways that support this hypothesis: warmer water species are being caught in areas where catch used to be dominated by cold water species.  This state of affairs demands institutions that are flexible and can adjust rapidly to changing conditions.

Most fishery institutions, on the other hand, seem inflexible and incapable of rapid adjustment to a changing world. For example, the Pacific Salmon Treaty of 1985 allocated harvest of shared stocks of salmon to the United States and Canada based on average distributions.  But then, changes in the distribution and abundance of salmon (which are prone to such changes, being migratory) resulted in a fish war between these two strong allies.  In many other fisheries, too, declines in fish stocks have led to declines in  allowable catch limits, leaving  fisherman who invested in boats and gear during boom times saddled with debt.

Catch share programs, in which shares of allowable catch are allocated to individuals or groups, are much more suitable to a world in which the climate is changing. Shareholders can buy or sell shares, allowing the fishery to contract or expand depending on how many fish are around.  For example, fishing capacity had built up to high levels in the Pacific groundfish fishery, resulting in a federal buyout of about half of the capacity.  However, the fishery was still constrained by very low catch limits for species depleted by decades of overfishing.  Catch shares have allowed the fleet to adjust to these new catch limits by incentivizing fishermen to extract more value from their catch and engage in creative strategies to avoid catching the overfished species. Read More »

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New Opportunity to Improve Gulf of Mexico Fishing

New federal rules that require Federal regulators recently finalized rules to help regional fishery councils comply with new U.S. fisheries laws to end and prevent overfishing with "annual catch limits" and "accountability measures." This means that tougher limits on fishing are coming, and Gulf fishery managers can take this opportunity to save fisheries and the multi-billion dollars in economic benefits they provide the region. Here's what can be done:

Catch shares should be the preferred accountability measure for reef fisheries. Reef fish are popular commercial and sport fish and some species are in trouble. Catch shares (like IFQs) help fishermen comply with catch limits, while enabling them to fish year-round, reduce waste, and improve business practices. Catch shares are already working for commercial red snapper, and other reef species should be added quickly. They should also be expanded to for-hire charter and party boats. For private anglers, fish harvest tags can improve accountability and extend fishing seasons.

Each sector should have its own catch limit and accountability measures. Sectors include the commercial, for-hire, private angler, and shrimp trawl (for fish accidentally killed in shrimp nets). Each should be alotted a defined portion of the catch and be held responsible for accurately counting fish and complying with its limit.

The Gulf Council is getting started on a "scoping document" to explore preliminary ideas at the June meeting in Tampa. Public meetings will be held later in the summer. Now is the time to let the Council know that catch shares and sector accountability are essential for healthy and prosperous Gulf fisheries.

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