NOAA Fisheries publishes final rule to allow electronic monitoring on some Pacific groundfish vessels

Published on
June 27, 2019

Starting in 2021, fishermen in segments of the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery will have the ability to use electronic monitoring devices to record what they catch for reporting purposes.

The measure, published in a final rule last week by NOAA Fisheries, gives the option to midwater trawl vessels in the Pacific whiting fishery and for fixed gear boats in the individual fishing quota fishery. Vessel owners will be able to receive an exemption from the 100-percent observer requirement as long as they use an allowed monitoring system.

“This action is necessary to increase operational flexibility and reduce monitoring costs for vessels in the trawl fishery by providing an alternative to observers,” NOAA Fisheries said in its final rule statement. “Data from the (electronic monitoring) program will be used to debit discards of (individual fishing quota) species from IFQs and mothership cooperative allocations.

It comes after some vessels participated in a pilot program testing the monitoring equipment. That pilot was pushed by some environmental organizations, including the Environment Defense Fund.

Shems Jud, the West Coast director of EDF’s Oceans program, said the rule will help improve conservation efforts.

“This is an important step towards creating ‘Smart Boats’ that can deploy a variety of technology, including cameras, to bring down costs of monitoring, improve conservation and increase the accuracy of the data generated by fishermen,” he said in a statement.

Onboard observers have been a point of contention for fishermen due mainly to their costs. NOAA Fisheries initially provided funding assistance for IFQ fishermen, but that funding decreased every year until 2015 when it ended.

NOAA Fisheries estimates the electronic monitoring can save shore-based whiting boats as much as USD 27,777 (EUR 24,435) annually in monitoring costs. Mothership catchers and other fixed gear vessels could see savings of up to USD 7,575 (EUR 6,663) a year.

Melissa Mahoney, manager of Pacific fisheries policy for EDF Oceans program, thanked NOAA Fisheries for taking the step.

“But the job is far from done,” she said. “We have amazing opportunities to harness technology in new ways, including through the use of real-time wireless data transmission, artificial intelligence that can detect when fishing is occurring and the use of sensors to tell us more about what’s happening in the ocean. This is an exciting time, and we’re proud to have contributed to the dialogue that led to this much-needed change.”

The first round of applications from electronic monitoring providers will take place in June 2020. Fishermen can start applying in October 2020.

NOAA Fisheries still plans to keep some observers on boats with monitoring devices to collect data the equipment cannot collect.    

Photo courtesy of NOAA

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