Electronic Monitoring and Reporting Explained

NOAA Fisheries is investing in technology fishermen use to track their catch. These new technologies hold promise in making data collection more accurate, timelier, and more cost efficient.

What’s at stake?

Fishing is big business. In the United States, commercial and recreational fishing collectively generate approximately $200 billion in sales and support 1.7 million American jobs. The engine that drives these economic benefits is abundant ocean fisheries. A big part of sustainably managing these fisheries is keeping track of fishermen’s catch. More accurate and timely data will benefit our fishery stock assessments; improving the information we use to manage them sustainably.

How do we monitor fisheries?

Traditionally, we’ve relied on a combination of surveys, paper logbooks, and independent observation to count what fishermen catch and toss back. Increasingly, , we’re investing in new digital data collecting technologies. These technologies range from electronic reporting of fishing trip data by fishermen and catch, landings, and purchase data by dealers or processors, to electronic monitoring equipment such as video cameras that capture information on fishing location, catch, and discards.

 

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We’re figuring out how technology such as on-board cameras, tablets, and electronic logbooks can be used to monitor fishing activity and report catch. One idea is to supplement human observers with digital video cameras and software capable of measuring and identifying different species of fish.

Have any of these technologies actually been implemented?

Currently, electronic monitoring programs have been implemented in 5 U.S. fisheries. The most recent, in 2015, uses on-board cameras to track the bycatch of bluefin tuna on boats in the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery. Implementation will occur in up to 4 more monitoring programs over the next 3 years.

There is interest in every region to take advantage of the efficiencies and lack of paper in using electronic reporting.  There are a number of electronic logbook and e-reporting programs in place or in the testing phase, involving recreational charter and headboats, and commercial fisheries.   Electronic reporting of for-hire vessels will be required in the Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic, and Mid-Atlantic regions by 2018.

What’s being done to get this new technology used more broadly?

We have provided approximately $27 million since 2006 to develop and implement electronic technologies. This includes supporting pre-implementation of new electronic monitoring programs and more than 30 pilot projects to experiment with various technologies.

In 2014, we put in place regional electronic technology implementation plans  to identify, evaluate, and prioritize implementation of promising electronic technologies in specific fisheries around the country.

Since release of the regional plans, we’ve allocated more than $8 million to support the use of electronic technologies and worked through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other partners to support additional public/private partnerships. In 2016, Congress provided an additional $6.7 million to support implementation of electronic technology programs.

We also organized and hosted the 2nd National Electronic Monitoring Workshop in late 2016 to bring together fishermen, industry members, service providers, managers, scientist, and enforcement agents to exchange information on successes and challenges with electronic monitoring programs around the country.  The information sharing at the workshop allows new programs to advance quickly because of learning from people who have implemented programs previously.

Why isn’t implementation happening more quickly?

We’ve learned from experience that moving from project design to full implementation involves some growing pains.

These include complex hardware and software, varied boat sizes and designs, and the damage that can be done to electronics when exposed to saltwater and pounding waves. These are just some of the real-world practical challenges.

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We’ve also identified a number of policy and data-related challenges presented by adoption of new technologies. These include the handling of the enormous amount of data generated by electronic monitoring, effects on time series of data used in stock assessments, confidentiality, and cost allocation between government and non-government partners.

But by far the most talked about challenges are the relative costs of various approaches and who pays for these new technologies.

Does technology make data collection more cost efficient?

It depends. In 2015, we conducted a cost comparison between electronic monitoring and the use of human observers for two hypothetical fisheries in the Greater Atlantic Region.  We found that electronic monitoring may be a cost-efficient option in some cases, but not in others.

We are also learning a lot from our experience with earlier pilot projects and implementation of electronic monitoring systems. While we have not seen across the board cost savings in all fisheries, we expect that electronic monitoring and reporting costs could decrease in the future as we work collaboratively with industry and the private sector to refine these systems.

What’s next?

Emerging technologies such as smart phones apps, on-board video cameras, and e-logbooks hold the promise of better information, better decision-making, and better fishing. As with any new technology, this promise must be balanced against results, feasibility, and cost.

Developing thoughtful solutions to these cross-cutting issues and numerous fishery-specific challenges requires collaboration and planning. We remain committed to providing national guidance as our regions work with our partners and fishing communities on a systematic approach toward adopting new technologies, as well as developing new technologies to monitor fisheries more efficiently and cost effectively.

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Why isn’t implementation happening more quickly?

We’ve learned from experience that moving from pilot projects to full implementation involves some growing pains.

These include complex hardware and software, varied boat sizes and designs, and the damage that can be done to electronics when exposed to saltwater and pounding waves. These are just some of the real-world practical challenges.

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We’ve also identified a number of policy and data-related challenges presented by adoption of new technologies. These include the handling of the enormous amount of data involved and effects on time series of data used in stock assessments.

But by far the most talked about challenges are the relative costs of various approaches and who pays for these new technologies.

Does technology make data collection more cost efficient?

It depends. In 2015, we conducted a cost comparison between electronic monitoring and the use of human observers for two hypothetical fisheries in the Greater Atlantic Region.  We found that electronic monitoring may be a cost-efficient option in some cases, but not in others.

We are also learning a lot from our experience implementing systems in pilot programs. While we have not seen across the board cost savings in all fisheries, we expect that electronic monitoring and reporting costs could decrease in the future as we work collaboratively with industry and the private sector to refine these systems.

What’s next? 

Emerging technology such as smart phones, on-board video cameras, and e-logbooks hold the promise of better information, better decision-making, and better fishing. As with any new technology, this promise must be balanced against results, feasibility, and cost.

Developing thoughtful solutions to these cross-cutting issues and numerous fishery-specific challenges requires collaboration and planning. We remain committed to providing national guidance as our regions work with our partners and fishing communities on a systematic approach toward adopting new technologies. 

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