Electronic monitoring may expand for West Coast catch share fleets

Video camera systems may soon provide an alternative to human observers in tracking the catch on more West Coast fishing vessels, under new regulations proposed by NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The action responds to requests from the groundfish fleet to begin using electronic monitoring to provide the full accounting of catches required in West Coast catch share fisheries. The step is intended to provide additional flexibility and reduce costs for fishing vessels that otherwise must pay for trained observers to accompany their crews and record their catches at sea.

Some vessels already use the cameras in an experimental capacity. The new action would allow those vessels and others to employ electronic monitoring on a long-term operational basis.

A full accounting of catches is essential to the success of catch shares because each fisherman or group of fishermen gets a share of the allowable catch and all fish caught count against their quota. The catch share fishery has required 100 percent observer coverage since it began in 2011. NOAA Fisheries initially subsidized the cost of observers, but in 2015 the full cost shifted to vessel operators.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted an amendment to the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan that allows electronic monitoring in the Pacific whiting midwater trawl and fixed-gear segments of the groundfish fishery starting in 2017. NOAA Fisheries today published a proposed rule in the Federal Register that would implement the amendment.

Comments are due on the proposed rule by October 6, 2016.

“The goal is for fishermen to have choices,” said Lisa Damrosch of Half Moon Bay, California, who works with the California Groundfish Collective, a collaboration of California fishermen who participate in the Individual Fishing Quota (also known as catch shares) groundfish fishery. “We want them to have choices so they can make cost-effective decisions that work for them. It may not be for everybody, but they get to make that call.”

Under the proposed rule, vessel owners would pay for the installation of video camera systems that record their catch as it comes aboard. Operators would also report their catches and discards in logbooks aboard the vessel. Independent analysts would then review the video to audit the logbooks and ensure their accuracy.  For the first few years of the program, NOAA Fisheries would pay for review and storage of the video data to assist the fishery in transitioning to the new program. Vessel owners would become responsible for the full costs of the program in 2020.

“This is something the fishing community and NOAA have been exploring for some time, and we’re glad to be taking this step,” said Steve Freese, acting Assistant Regional Administrator for the Sustainable Fisheries Division in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region. “It is important for the program to evolve in a way that is responsive to vessel owners and operators and helps them succeed.”

In recent years some vessels have tested electronic monitoring under special permits and many have found it an efficient and convenient alternative to carrying observers, Damrosch explained. Observers are not always readily available in remote fishing communities, she noted.

The proposed rule outlines standards and requirements for vessel owners and operators using electronic monitoring.

More information on Electronic Monitoring

To view the proposed rule and and learn how you can comment