Cameras to Monitor N.E.’s Groundfish Fishery

Issues of cost and the need for better information have been at the forefront of recent discussions about fisheries monitoring. (© Lauren Owens/for The Nature Conservancy)

Issues of cost and the need for better information have been at the forefront of recent discussions about fisheries monitoring. (© Lauren Owens/for The Nature Conservancy)

Technology intended to provide an accurate and cost-effective alternative for fisheries monitoring

By ecoRI News staff

HARWICH, Mass. — June 1 marks the beginning of a new era for fisheries monitoring in New England. This year, for the first time, up to 20 participating fishermen from Massachusetts and Maine will use digital cameras rather than human monitors to document discards of groundfish, such as cod, haddock and flounder, on commercial fishing trips.

This collaborative project currently includes groundfishermen from the Maine Coast Community Sector and Cape Cod’s Fixed Gear Sector, with technical support from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and project oversight by The Nature Conservancy. The goal is to use innovative technology to provide accurate catch and discard information in a cost-effective manner.

With quotas for some groundfish species, particularly cod, at historic lows, the importance of accurate fishing information has never been greater, and the profit margin for fishermen has never been smaller.

“Electronic monitoring is the only realistic solution for the small-boat fishery,” said Eric Hesse, captain of the Tenacious II, out of West Barnstable. “Even if some fishermen have managed to scrape together enough daily revenue to cover the cost of human observers, it won’t take much to undo that balance. More importantly, it is a responsible step toward owning one’s impact on the resource and the fishery, and as quota holders, we owe it to ourselves to minimize bycatch and fish sustainably.”

Issues of cost and the need for better information have been at the forefront of recent discussions about fisheries monitoring. This program is coming at a time when costs for at-sea monitoring have transitioned from the government to New England’s groundfish fleet, and fishermen are looking for more affordable ways to meet federal monitoring requirements.

Electronic video monitoring systems use three to four cameras to capture all the fish handling activity on deck, with some cameras focused on dedicated points so that fish can be identified and measured before being discarded. Upon completion of the trip, fishermen send the hard drives to third-party reviewers who watch the footage and quantify the amount of discarded fish, allowing regulators to use the information for catch accounting.

Fishermen on both the East and West coasts are testing and deploying video monitoring systems on their vessels in an effort to supply better catch data for fisheries management and to save money.

“Our goal is to develop electronic monitoring into an accepted, accurate and cost-effective alternative for those fishermen who choose to use it,” said Chris McGuire, marine program director for The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts and the project’s manager. “The conservancy’s project team has been working closely with fishermen, regulators and scientists to co-develop the details of this electronic monitoring program, and we’re really pleased to have reached this point.”

Costs for equipment and video review during the 2016 fishing season are being offset by federal funds through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and other sources.