R.I. Groundfishermen Bring Technology Aboard

By ecoRI News staff

The Nature Conservancy’s electronic monitoring project includes groundfish vessels from Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine. (TNC)

The Nature Conservancy’s electronic monitoring project includes groundfish vessels from Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine. (TNC)

GALILEE, R.I. — Three groundfish vessels from Point Judith are now equipped with digital cameras, rather than human observers, to document discards of groundfish, such as cod, haddock and flounder, on commercial fishing trips.

This electronic monitoring (EM) project includes 14 groundfish vessels from Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine, and project management by The Nature Conservancy. The EM project goal is to use video technology to collect accurate and timely information about fish discarded at sea, at an affordable cost.

“There are a lot of reasons to go with EM,” said Capt. Christopher Brown, president of both the Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association and Seafood Harvesters of American, and an EM project participant. “Currently, every time a stock assessment struggles for answers, a fisherman ends up settling for less. I think we can change that. We have wasted so much opportunity, waiting for the science to catch up to the recovery of fish stocks. Real-time data can narrow that gap. EM technology can also reduce costs and potentially increase flexibility in how we fish in New England.”

Electronic monitoring systems use up to four cameras to view all the fishing activity on deck, with some cameras focused on specific areas where fish can be identified and measured before being discarded. After the trip, third-party reviewers watch the video, measure and identify discarded fish, and send a report used for science and management to federal regulators.

The Nature Conservancy is collaborating with fishermen in New England, and across the globe, to advance electronic technologies that improve the information required to manage sustainable fisheries.

“To make this work we need the EM system to be accurate, useable and affordable,” said Chris McGuire, marine program director for The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts and the project’s manager. “To get there, we are working with fishermen to streamline the collection of onboard data.”

The costs for at-sea monitoring have shifted recently from the government to New England’s groundfish fleet. Participating EM fishermen recognize that good fisheries science and management require good information about catch, and are looking to this technology to help make it less costly.

Project partners include the Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association, The Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, The Gulf of Maine Research Institute, and Ecotrust Canada. Costs for equipment purchases and video review are being offset by The Nature Conservancy, with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and other sources.