Groundfish: Trawl Catch Share Program Electronic Monitoring

Chronology of the Council’s Regulatory Development Process for an Electronic Monitoring Program


In 2011, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) implemented a Council developed catch share program for the West Coast limited entry groundfish trawl fishery (trawl catch share program). The program requires that each vessel acquire quota pounds to cover its catch (including discards) of nearly all groundfish species (exceptions were made for some species rarely caught in the trawl groundfish fishery). Proper functioning of the program requires some form of at-sea monitoring to ensure that discards are enumerated for each vessel. The catch share program specified that this monitoring function be achieved through 100% at-sea observer coverage. Program participants will be responsible for the full cost of observer coverage in the near future so the industry is interested in finding a less costly method to monitor catch and discards at sea.

Some participants have experienced difficulties in securing observers in a timely or consistent manner so vessels may prefer the flexibility to turn on an electronic monitoring (EM) (or video monitoring) system and leave port immediately versus waiting for an observer.  The EM system would perform the function of monitoring compliance with individual fishing quotas. Therefore, EM is being explored as a flexible and economically viable substitute for the use of human observers in the trawl catch share program.

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At the November 2012 Council meeting (Agenda Item I5), the Council passed a motion to begin the public scoping process for electronic monitoring and to hold a workshop in preparation for that scoping. The workshop was held in February, 2013 [see the EM Workshop webpage]. The purpose of the workshop was to begin developing the policy context and identify necessary elements for a thorough Magnuson-Stevens Act process to use EM in the trawl catch share program. In 2012, Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) received funds to test the feasibility of using EM for catch and discard accounting in the newly implemented trawl catch shares program. The electronic monitoring project is meant to address some key questions, including: can video monitoring be used effectively to track an individual’s catch and discard so it can be debited from a quota account? How much would such a program cost the industry as compared to the human compliance monitor program? See the PSMFC EM Project Update for details of the initial plan presented to the Council and the expected industry participation. For further details of the project, please visit the PSMFC website.

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The Council decided at the April, 2013 Council meeting (Agenda Item D7) to move forward with consideration of the possible use of EM for the trawl catch share program. At that time, the Council decided that the primary focus of integrating EM into the trawl catch share program would be to achieve the compliance monitoring required for individual accountability of catch and discard, as opposed to using EM to meet the needs for biological data collection or other scientific monitoring (e.g. protected species interactions). At the April meeting, the Council adopted a set of regulatory objectives listed in the EM workshop report (Agenda Item D.7.b). The Council also reviewed a preliminary 2012 EM field study report by PSMFC (Agenda Item D.7.c, PSMFC Report 1) and approved a set of recommendations for the 2013 PSMFC EM field study (Agenda Item D.7.c, PSMFC Report 2). The studies generally focus on comparison of video and human observer data regarding retained and discarded catch.

In May 2013, the National Marine Fisheries Service released its policy for Electronic Technologies and Fishery Dependent Data Collection. This policy provides guidance on the adoption of electronic technology solutions in fishery-dependent data collection programs (see the NMFS Electronic Monitoring Policy webpage).

At the June 2013 Council meeting (Agenda Item F6), the Council established two EM committees (Groundfish Electronic Monitoring Policy Advisory Committee (GEMPAC) and the Groundfish Electronic Monitoring Technical Advisory Committee) to focus on the development of alternatives and options for EM use in the trawl catch share program. At the June meeting the Council established a timeline for considering EM, reviewed a white paper regarding the development of performance standards for an EM Program, and received a final 2012 field study report from PSMFC.

In August 2013 both groundfish electronic monitoring (GEM) Committees met to further the Council scoping process (Agenda Item G.10.a, GEMPAC Report). The GEMPAC developed a draft set of EM program alternatives for the Council’s consideration at their September 2013 Council meeting (Agenda Item G10). At the meeting, the Council provided guidance to the GEMPAC for continued development of EM program alternatives. Specifically the Council asked the GEM Committees to discuss a “phased-in-approach” for implementation of EM, starting with mid-water trawl and fixed gear fisheries, then a separate phase for bottom trawl fisheries. The Council also asked the GEM Committees to discuss the use of data logger systems as a component of the EM program, discuss alternatives for an EM program that includes species that may be discarded under maximize retention fisheries, and to explore ways to minimize discards for safety reasons.

The GEM Committees met again in October, 2013 to discuss the guidance provided by the Council. The GEMPAC refined the draft alternatives and developed a GEMPAC report (Agenda Item H8b) with recommendations for Council consideration at their November, 2013 meeting (Agenda Item H8). At the meeting the Council received a draft set of alternatives for an EM Program (Agenda Item H.8.a, Draft Alternatives), decided to revise the alternatives with the modifications recommended in the Enforcement Consultants Report (Agenda Item H.8.b EC Report) and to move forward with further analysis. Additionally, the Council scheduled consideration of special, out-of-cycle exempted fishing permit (EFP) proposals for electronic monitoring, with maximized retention requirements. The Council sent a letter to the industry (Agenda Item C.7.a Attachment 4) announcing that it will accept EFP applications at the April 2013 meeting and provided guidance for their development. At the GEMPAC meeting in March, applicants received verbal feedback for refinement of their EFP applications prior to submission to the Council.

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In April, 2014 (Agenda Items C1 and C7) the Council heard an update on the PSMFC filed study (Agenda Item C1), received a new draft analysis of alternatives, and reviewed EFP applications (Agenda Item C7). The Council preliminarily approved EFPs and provided guidance to the applicants for refinement. The Council asked that applicants to consider resubmitting applications for the June 2014 with the following additions:

  1. Regarding the Leipzig EFP application – limit the number of vessels and require up to 100 percent observer coverage;
  2. Regarding the California Risk Pool application – limit the number of vessels and require up to 100 percent observer coverage on the bottom trawl vessels;
  3. Regarding the Eder et al. application – limit the number of vessels.

The Council also requested that the EFPs, address how the halibut viability assessments could be conducted without the presence of a human observer, with the intention that halibut retention not be permitted.

On May 7 and 8, 2014 the GEM Committees met to discuss initial EM program alternatives and options adopted by the Council for analysis. The GEMPAC revised and added some options for further analysis (GEMPAC Report). The GEMPAC recommendations were then added to the draft analysis for further Council consideration.

In June 2014, the Council (Agenda Items F2 and F5) reviewed the draft analysis of the alternatives and options (See Agenda Item F.2) and decided to modify some of the regulatory options (See Agenda Item F.2.a, Attachment 1 and the Council’s blog).

Also at the June meeting, the Council received four revised EFPs and recommended that NMFS implement them for the whiting midwater trawl, non-whiting midwater trawl, fixed gear, and bottom trawl fisheries in 2015 and 2016 (See Agenda Item F.5 for details).  Specifically, the Council recommended the EM EFPs be issued to test EM in the fisheries on in limited capacity with some additional permit conditions.

In September 2014 the Council (Agenda Item J3) reviewed the draft analysis for regulatory development of the EM Program (Agenda Item J.3.a). It included the new options added by the Council during the June meeting (See Agenda Item J3 for more detail). The Council also reviewed the GEMPAC Report and other Advisory Body Reports. The Council picked its final preferred alternatives for an EM program for all groundfish fisheries operating under the trawl catch shares program, contingent on scheduled review opportunities prior to the final rule implementation.

The Council provided guidance to NMFS regarding preservation of the IFQ Program goals and the development of performance standards when considering regulations to implement an EM Program.

In order to preserve the conservation and accountability aspects of the IFQ Program, the EM Program must accurately capture discard events (i.e., whether discard has occurred), amount of discard (i.e., volume in weight and size of individual fish), disposition of discard (i.e., consider providing survivability credit for released fish, such as halibut), and rare events (e.g., catch and discard of rebuilding rockfish, by species).

In developing performance standards and accountability measures, the Council recommended NMFS consider the economic incentives to misreport or underreport catches and mortalities of overfished rockfish and Pacific halibut.

Individual accountability in the fisheries will hold only so far as monitoring programs are able to counteract these incentives. As such, having adequate enforcement to ensure compliance with the EM Program with strong consequences in place for violations are keys to success.

Performance standards examples that NMFS will consider are listed below:

  1. Require recording of discards in logbooks with estimated weights given for each species for each haul or set;
  2. Require a minimum of 30% video review during times of gear retrieval and 30% of video review of the remainder of the trip; compare to logbook entries for logbook certification;
  3. Logbook certification is achieved if video review determines that logbook amounts are within 20% accuracy of video review, by species;
  4. If logbook amounts do not meet 20% accuracy standard, then a 100% video review is triggered at vessel account holder expense and vessel cannot commence another fishing trip until video has been reviewed and vessel account has been debited;
  5. If the 100% video review is triggered more than twice within a six-month time period, then 100% video review is in effect for all fishing trips for the six months following the commencement of fishing activity, again at the vessel account holder’s expense.

The preferred alternatives and options are being tested using the EFPs. Testing began in the spring of 2015 and will continue through 2016.

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An initial report, cost analysis, and draft regulations for implementation of an EM program for the whiting midwater trawl fishery was presented to the Council in November 2015 (Agenda Item I.5). At the meeting, the Council verified their final preferred alternatives for the whiting fishery (see the Council Decision Summary). The Council’s intent is to have regulations applicable fleetwide in place by the 2017 season (May 15, 2017 or earlier).

Also at the November meeting, the Council was given an update regarding potential implementation of an EM program for the IFQ fixed gear fleet along with the whiting fishery EM program (see draft timeline). The Council asked the GEMPAC and GEMTAC to review regulations for the whiting and fixed gear fisheries over the winter. They also scheduled for the April 2016 Council meeting verification of their final preferred alternatives for the fixed gear fleet and deeming of the draft regulations for both whiting and fixed gear EM programs.

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At the March 2016 meeting the Council received an EFP update regarding the IFQ fixed gear, bottom trawl EFP fishing activity. The Council chose to extend the expiration date of the EM EFPs for the bottom trawl, non-whiting mid-water trawl, whiting mid-water trawl, and fixed gear catch share fisheries through 2018. However, the Council clarified their intent that the EFPs cease when fleetwide regulations are implemented; fleet-wide regulations for whiting midwater trawl fisheries and fixed gear fisheries are expected January 1, 2017, but fleet-wide regulations for bottom trawl and non-whiting mid-water trawl fisheries are not expected to be implemented January 1, 2017 under current scheduling. Based on the lack of fishery information for the bottom trawl and non-whiting mid-water trawl fisheries, the Council expects that EFP for these fisheries will be needed through December 31, 2018.

At the April meeting, the Council modified their final preferred alternative (FPA) for electronic monitoring for the fixed gear fishery as described in Table 1 of Agenda Item F.4, Attachment 1:

  1. Individual Vessel Monitoring Plans expiration was changed from 1 year to no expiration;
  2. Declaration of EM use was changed from annual declaration to no limit on frequency – declaration stands until changed;
  3. Data Transfer Process removed shoreside monitor and retained only vessel operator and crew;
  4. Video and data processing was clarified that the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission should be eligible to be a 3rd-party video reviewer.

In addition, the Council recommended the following changes based on recommendations in the Groundfish Electronic Monitoring Policy Advisory Committee’s report:

  1. Remove references to particular modes of communication (i.e., email).
  2. Discuss in the preamble of the proposed rule NMFS standards for EM providers to provide free litigation support to NMFS.
  3. Include a one-page EM application process for existing EM participants to reduce the paperwork burden for the industry.
  4. Include a general statement in the regulations that would require EM providers to comply with state and Federal warranty statutes.

Regarding record retention requirements in the draft regulations, the Council recommended maintaining the proposed 3-year record retention requirement but specified that this requirement be reviewed prior to transitioning to 3rd-party video reviewers to reduce the duration period for EM providers to retain records.

Finally, the Council deemed the draft regulations as meeting the intent of the whiting final preferred alternative (see November 2015 Decision Summary for Whiting Electronic Monitoring) and for the fixed gear fishery with the expectation that changes to the FPA and additional recommendations be incorporated.   The NMFS’s proposed rule was available on Oct 6, 2016.  A final rule is forthcoming and may be available in the spring of 2017.

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On February, 22 and April 6, 2017 the GEMPAC and GEMTAC met to discuss final recommendations to implement an EM program for the non-whiting midwater trawl fishery for rockfish, and the bottom trawl fishery. The GEMPAC revised their preferred alternatives that were selected in September 2014 and provided their report to the Council at the April, 2017 Council meeting in Sacramento, CA.

At the April 2017 Council meeting the Council received an EFP update, reviewed draft regulations and reports from the GEMPAC, California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Groundfish Advisory Subpanel, Groundfish Management Team, and Enforcement Consultants, and received public comment. At the meeting, the Council finalized their preferred alternative and options and provided NMFS their recommendations and guidance to implement an EM program for the non-whiting midwater trawl and bottom trawl fisheries. The Council’s decision document and final recommendations can be found here:  Council Decision Summary.

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