New England, Mid-Atlantic fishery councils ponder switch to electronic vessel trip reporting

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council is considering an action that would require all vessel trip reporting done by fishermen in the region be electronic. 

The move, which is under an omnibus framework action, would require commercial fishing vessels to fill out all of their vessel trip reports electronically, eliminating the ability to fill out paper forms. Electronic vessel trip reporting (eVTR) has been an established way to submit reports since 2013, according to Karson Coutre of the Mid-Atlantic council. 

“The Mid-Atlantic Council has been interested in eVTR for the past several years,” Coutre told SeafoodSource. "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.”

The move, Coutre said, is intended to increase the reporting efficiency for both the operators of vessels, and the data collection agency. 

“For the vessel operator, eVTR can decrease the entry of redundant information using customized favorites, dropdown menus, plain language instead of codes, and auto-complete features,” Coutre said. “Electronic reporting would also increase the timeliness and accuracy of fisheries data submitted to NMFS [National Marine Fisheries Service] because the VTR data would be available for error-checking and validation instantaneously.”

Transitioning to eVTR would also save money, as a lot of time is spent checking and scanning individual paper reports. In 2018, over 70,000 paper reports were submitted from Mid-Atlantic permit holders, and every single one needs to be scanned and entered into a database. 

While the Mid-Atlantic council is the one considering the move to mandatory eVTR, the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) will also need to consider the implications of transitioning to mandatory electronic reporting. Due to current regulations, any fisherman with multiple permits must follow the “most restrictive rule” of their permits. That would mean any New England fisherman with a permit for a species managed by the Mid-Atlantic council would end up having to use eVTR for any species they catch that’s managed by either council. 

Effectively, if the Mid-Atlantic council moves forward with mandatory eVTR, it may de-facto cause the NEFMC to consider their own move to mandatory eVTR. Estimates by the NEFMC put the number of fishermen who hold permits in both New England and Mid-Atlantic council-managed species at at least 2,514 vessels, all of which would be required to use eVTR if the Mid-Atlantic council moves forward. 

Another complicating factor is species that are managed jointly by both councils. Both spiny dogfish and monkfish are managed by both councils, with New England having the administrative lead for monkfish, and the Mid-Atlantic council the lead for spiny dogfish. 

“Both councils have to mutually agree on the provisions for a joint plan before submitting those to the NMFS,” Janice Plante, public affairs officer for the NEFMC, said. 

For New England, the move to eVTR requires more research, as a lot of fishermen still use paper forms that are mailed in. Any switchover to mandatory eVTR would require a build-up period, including educational programs to ensure that fishermen can fill the reports out correctly. 

Currenly, eVTR is available through a smartphone app, web-based reporting, and multiple types of software. The app and web-based reporting is available through NOAA. 

According to Plante, the NEFMC will be discussing eVTR in June, in order to begin determining what will be needed to make the changeover from paper to electronic forms. In the long run, according to Coutre, the move to electronic forms would help meet some of the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office’s (the NOAA Fisheries office covering the two councils) goals of simplifying reporting. 

“As electronic data entry by vessel operators is established, application providers such as GARFO and ACCSP [Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program] are working towards 'one-stop shop' reporting,” Coutre said. “Moving towards eVTR is step one in that process.”



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