New England council joins Mid-Atlantic in push to require electronic trip reporting
The New England Fishery Management Council has decided to join with the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council in requiring all vessels to use electronic vessel trip reports (eVTR), replacing physical reports.
The action was initiated after the Mid-Atlantic council started investigating the possibility of switching all trip reporting in December 2018. The move, under an omnibus framework action, would require that all vessels use eVTR, a method that has been available since 2013.
“The Mid-Atlantic Council has been interested in eVTR for the past several years,” Karson Coutre, of the Mid-Atlantic council, told SeafoodSource in May. "Many stakeholders have voiced the desire to move in the direction of electronic reporting with technological advances and eVTR being an established means to submit VTRs since 2013.”
Electronic reporting would eliminate the need to individually scan thousands of reports: In 2018, the Mid-Atlantic council had to process over 70,000 reports. Every single one needs to be entered into a database, and sometimes clarity issues caused by handwriting or other problems makes information less accurate than it would be in an electronic report.
As a result of the Mid-Atlantic council’s investigation into using eVTR, the New England council had to initiate its own investigations. Many permit-holders in the region hold permits belonging to both councils, estimates by the New England council places at least 2,514 vessels holding permits in both regions, or nearly 90 percent.
In addition to that, some species are managed by both councils. Spiny dogfish and monkfish are both co-managed, with New England having the administrative lead for monkfish, and the Mid-Atlantic council the lead for spiny dogfish.
Current federal regulations require that all fishermen with multiple permits follow the “most restrictive rule” of their respective permits for every permit they hold. Meaning all of those 2,514 vessels, if the Mid-Atlantic switches to mandatory eVTR, would then have to file electronic-only in New England as well.
As a result, during the New-England council’s June meeting, the council voted to “engage in a joint omnibus eVTR action” for the co-managed spiny dogfish and monkfish fisheries, in addition to moving to “expand the framework action to include the full range of fisheries managed by the New England council for all commercial and recreational for-hire permit holders,” according to a release from the council.
Even if the New England council had decided to stick with just the spiny dogfish and monkfish fisheries, a huge portion of the permit holders in the region would be affected.
“If the New England Council had voted to join the Mid-Atlantic Council’s omnibus framework for monkfish and dogfish only, then 94 percent of New England’s stakeholders would have been required to submit eVTRs, leaving only 6 percent of the commercial fleet with the option of continuing to submit paper VTRs,” states the council release.
In addition, the National Marine Fisheries Service also intends to transition to electronic reporting across the board, to “(a) reduce costs associated with processing paper reports (b) improve reporting efficiency; and (c) decrease errors,” according to the council release.
The changeover won’t be immediate. Currently, the vast majority of reports are submitted via paper: Over 70,000 paper reports were submitted in 2018, but just over 7,000 electronic reports were submitted. Because many fishermen have likely never used the electronic reporting method, both councils are planning to have extended implementation periods that will allow for training in eVTR.
“The Mid-Atlantic Council is planning an extensive outreach effort that will include in-person workshops and training webinars from the fall of 2019 through the spring of 2020 for both New England and Mid-Atlantic fishermen,” the release states. “The Mid-Atlantic council has hired a contractor to coordinate the outreach effort.”
The Mid-Atlantic council is also hosting an informational webinar on 23 July for interested stakeholders.