Electronic Monitoring Workshops Succeed in Fostering Collaboration

It has been just over twenty years since the first electronic monitoring (EM) trial was implemented in a British Columbia crab fishery in 1999. A few years later a pilot to monitor halibut effort in an Alaska longline fishery was initiated. The buzz caught on and in 2003 the first EM pilot launched in New Zealand, to monitor seabird interactions with gill nets. Two more years down the road and the first trial geared towards monitoring bycatch was launched in Australia. Fast forward nearly two decades and there are now tons of pilots and full-scale electronic monitoring – and reporting – (EMR) programs in various stages of operation around the world, with these countries still very much at the forefront of progress.


While there is widespread and almost universal recognition of EMR as an effective fisheries management tool, there is an equally well-understood realization that myriad issues and challenges abound. Thankfully, here in the U.S., collaboration between NOAA Fisheries, fishermen, regional councils, resource managers and the broader industry is prevalent, and there is genuine interest and commitment to cracking the EMR nut to best serve fishermen, managers and the fishery resources. 


An example of this wide-reaching collaboration and agency leadership was on display in November when NOAA Fisheries and the New England Fishery Management Council held an electronic monitoring workshop focusing on East Coast and Gulf Coast issues (a West Coast workshop will be held next month on 12-13 February). These workshops bring together fishermen, managers, and technology service providers to discuss progress, challenges, and opportunities of using EM in managing fisheries, and they build upon previous EM workshops in 2014 and 2016.


To make EM work takes real trust and communication, long and hard work among all stakeholders, a clear vision of program objectives, buy-in from managers, research and innovation, and figuring out how to pay for program start-up and maintenance. These were the themes and types of open and frank discussions on display at this most recent workshop, many of them led by fishermen.


Fishermen who’ve been in EM programs realize its potential for accountability and how it helps them show that they fish legally and cleanly. Captain Jim Ford, a Massachusetts groundfish fisherman who was at the workshop demonstrated that point when he said “I like the cameras because they show what’s out there. You can’t dispute what the camera sees. Getting good quality data is key.”  


And he’s not alone. 


Gary Jarvis, a Gulf Coast charter captain and executive director of the Charter Fishermen’s Association also in attendance, added “Our stance in the Gulf of Mexico is to use technology as a way to move our members and industry into the future of sustainable and accountable fishery management practices. We are continually looking for ways to use new technologies that will enhance every facet of the management process but most importantly give us increased access to rebuilding fisheries by being the most accountable fishery in the recreational sector.”  


Fishermen like Jim and Gary see EM and other technologies as a way to get better, quicker data that benefit science, management, and fishermen. 


While these overarching positive sentiments were on full display at the workshop, there was also plenty of discussion and debate about the challenges facing the sector. And that was the intent of the workshop – raise awareness of EM programs and emerging technologies, provide a platform for collaboration, and provide guidance on developing EM policy and best practices to support and ease widespread adoption. 


Among the best practices discussed were collaborating and communicating with stakeholders across various regions, allowing time for programs to develop, building-in flexibility to adapt to changing conditions and new technologies, using Exempted Fishing Permits (EFPs) for learning and program adaptation, investing in research to improve efficiencies and incentivizing program improvement amongst a lot of others. 


But on the flip side, the workshop also identified challenges to the broader use of EM including stakeholder buy-in, concerns about privacy and data security, and funding for long-term monitoring because the economics of so many fisheries are marginal (so paying for additional monitoring costs is problematic). 


So while the latest workshop fulfilled its goal of fostering collaboration across the fisheries spectrum, it was also made abundantly clear that much more work needs to be done, and much needs to be resolved, before we can look back and see a real tipping point in the adoption of EMR technologies across this industry. 


Much has progressed since that first pilot in B.C over twenty years ago, but much hard work remains to make EM an integral part of fishery management. 


To keep track of EM and other fisheries technology issues, go to https://em4.fish/ which tracks electronic technology development and application worldwide. And, if you’re interested in the February workshop in Seattle, go to https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/event/national-electronic-monitoring-workshop-west-coast

George LaPointe, Net Gains Alliance, January 7, 2020

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