Implications and Trends of Electronic Monitoring
Electronic monitoring (EM) is a rapidly developing technology to monitor fisheries, where industry can possibly save costs or in situations where it is either impossible or dangerous for observer placement on board. The implications for observers are obvious - they may lose their jobs. But what are the benefits? There is an entire host of critical monitoring duties that electronic monitoring is currently unable to accomplish. What does science and fisheries monitoring stand to lose? Please contact the APO with updates and reports from your region so that we may post them here.
October 2011, North Pacific: The Council is asking NMFS to *take money away* from that currently allocated for observer monitoring and reallocate it to EM. This is a premature request as the technology has not been fully developed. Many at NMFS have expressed that the technology of EM is not yet advanced enough to replace observers but EM seems to be taking on a life of its own and without adequate oversight. Dan Falvey's, Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association, is involved in an EM analysis, which is being promoted as the star child of this push to bring EM to Alaska. There were a few issues that have been brushed over:
In addition, at the Observer Advisory Committee meeting in September, the small boat fleet (has never been monitored in Alaska) vehemently opposed Vessel Monitoring Systems on their boats, and if you remember, Arne Fuglvog was able to fish illegally for at least 5 years, *specifically* because he didn't have VMS and NMFS couldn't track them. This came up at the OAC meeting from the factory trawl sector (Paul McGregor, lawyer for the At-sea Processors) and the 60-125 ft. sector (Bob Alverson from the Fishing Vessel Owners Association) who argued that their constituents have had VMS and monitoring for years (i.e. it's not fair). They logically argued that VMS must absolutely be a vital component of the NPGOP restructuring plan because NMFS can't possibly know where and how much of this fleet needs monitoring when they don't know where the rest of the fleet is fishing. Other support for VMS in this fleet came from Alaskan Observers, Inc. (Michael Lake) because, for the vessels that do get observers (rather than EM), he needs to know at all times where his observers are. This is a problem in the Southeast observer programs where boats can be anywhere from Virginia to Panama and the contractor will not know where the observer is until they hear from their observer. Ditto for NMFS Enforcement, Nathan Lagerway, who argued that VMS allows him to respond efficiently to any harassment and endangerment cases.
August 2011: There has been a flurry of Electronic Monitoring (EM) activity this year in Alaska and the US West Coast. In Alaska, the Observer Advisory Committee (OAC) is a group that advises the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on observer program issues. The North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program (NPGOP) is undergoing "restructuring", planned for 2013, that will mandate for the first time the monitoring of the commercial groundfish fleet of vessels under 60 feet. Many in the small boat fleet find that observer costs are cost-prohibitive, so EM is being considered as an alternative. However other sectors are being discussed and it is just a matter of time before observers start getting replaced by cameras. Although observers are an obvious stakeholder, the NP Council has not allowed a seat for observers on the OAC since 2004.
EM does have some very good uses. For example, in 2004, NMFS sponsored research to investigate whether EM could adequately monitor trawl 3rd wire collisions with seabirds in the Alaska trawl fleet. The results showed EM could be used in this application. However, the catcher processor pollock boats in Alaska didn't want cameras on their boats at that time, apparently because they didn't want "another tuna-dolphin situation on their hands", if their 3rd wire were caught on film killing a short-tailed albatross (Shannon Fitzgerald, NMFS Seabird Coordinator for Alaska, 2005). However, that was the whole point of the study - to see if EM was effective for monitoring the fisheries' seabird interactions. So instead, even after the success of the research, NMFS caved to industry pressure and didn't use the available technology, putting observers in harm's way on deck to do the monitoring.
When the EM data was available to the public, the pollock boats didn't want anything to do with it, but now the danger of accountability appears to have been eliminated with the Reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act in 2007. The RMSA explicitly declared that all observer information, including EM is confidential. It was a "win-win", where both the fishing industry and NOAA can hide behind confidentiality rules, without labor, human or animal rights issues to be revealed to the public.
EM does have some good uses but will require its own monitoring with each program that implements it. There is an entire suite of questions that remain unanswered: What observer duties are being sacrificed by the agency? Which species ID will be lost? Which essential biological specimens will no longer be required to monitor populations? But the big question on everyone's mind is who will be sorting the data and how will it be shared and stored.
There are over 300 pairs of eyes a year on Alaska's groundfish fishery. EM will eliminate human witnesses and be turned over to a handful of NMFS outsourced contractors, who will be deciding what data to keep and what gets destroyed forever. "Technical failures" on board is another potential data loss.
This will all be under the umbrella of an agency governed by Alaska fisheries politics and the whims of national politics in Washington. There are lots of questions here about the impacts on data quality and reliability, not to mention public access. In fact the complications are so great, that each program that intends to implement EM deserves an Environmental Assessment to answer all these questions. Observers definitely need to be a part of the discussion.
1. Coming Soon: September 9, 2011 Workshop on US National EM.
It's free and will be held in Seattle.
2. Coming soon: September 15-16, 2011 Observer Advisory Committee Meeting. The OAC advises the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on observer program issues.
Observers can attend and submit comments/ask questions at the end.
This meeting was primarily about using EM to monitor the small boat fleet (<60 feet). This fleet in Alaska has never been monitored before and many are too small to carry observers but others have ample space. Some vessel owners cut off a couple of feet off their bow specifically to avoid observer coverage but their boats still have ample space to carry an observer. Other uses of EM in the Alaska fleet were discussed.
4. April 19, 2011: Observer Program Restructuring Implementation Issues for OAC Feedback.
This document lists outstanding issues from the March 2011 OAC meeting, soliciting input from OAC members. Below is the section on substituting observers with EM.
Substitution of observer coverage with EM.
In June 2010, the Council tasked the OAC and staff to develop EM as an additional tool for fulfilling observer coverage requirements with the intent that EM be available for specified sectors at the time a restructured observer program is implemented. In March 2011, the OAC recommended focusing an initial EM effort on the 40' â€“ 60' longline IFQ sector, recognizing that information resulting from the initial design will be key to potentially expanding EM to other sectors. In practice, that initial effort may best be applied to the 40' - 57.5' vessels, as that length group matches NMFS' initial distinction between call-in (trip) and vessel selection processes. The OAC recommendations on EM were based on starting a limited program for those sectors: 1) newly included in the observer program; 2) in which it would be relatively impractical or unsafe to carry an observer; and 3) that are not dependent on near real-time data in order to manage the fishery (e.g., are not subject to PSC caps that close the fishery). The Council concurred with the OAC's direction for EM at its April 2011 meeting.
NMFS is proposing to include general regulations to allow use of a NMFS-approved and supplied EM system in lieu of an observer when an observer is impractical or unsafe. In the proposed rule, NMFS will discuss which vessels could be candidates for EM and how NMFS would determine which vessels to approve for EM.
NMFS' Current Perspective: Initially, the availability of EM resources is likely to be limited. Thus, NMFS would determine which vessels may substitute EM for an observer. NMFS recognizes some 40' -60' vessels may not safely and/or practically accommodate an observer and that EM may not be available as a substitute for all of these vessels. Practically, NMFS envisions selecting a group of vessels in the vessel selection process, coordinating with the owners, and visiting the vessels to make a determination as to what observation is appropriate: 1) observers, 2) EM, or 3) none. As sufficient resources and solutions are available, NMFS expects the number of vessels unable to accommodate either an observer or EM will be limited.
Click on "observers" at the end of the page to watch Alaska and US West Coast contractors talk to their business partners about reducing the cost of observers.
6. 2011 Grant to test the feasibility of using EM on the small boat fleet in Alaska.
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Grants
Alaska: Electronic Monitoring for Alaskan Catch Share Fisheries Grantee: Alaska Longline Fishermen's Associationâ€¨Fisheries Innovation Fund Award: $220,000; Matching Funds: $161,000; Total Project: $381,000â€¨This project will field-test electronic monitoring on small, community-based boats now participating in Alaska's halibut/sablefish catch-share fisheries.
We'll want to keep an eye on the results of this one because the fleet has never been monitored before.
Please do not hesitate to contact us with your questions or feedback, and if you have any interest in participating in the developments of this project.
Liz Mitchell: firstname.lastname@example.org