Groundfish: Electronic Monitoring in the Trawl Catch Share Program

What is electronic monitoring?           

Electronic monitoring is the use of video technology to track catches and discards of fish. Electronic monitoring should not be confused with vessel monitoring systems, which track the location of fishing vessels.

Why electronic monitoring?

At-sea monitoring of all fishing trips (100% monitoring) is required as part of the Council’s groundfish trawl catch share program in order to account for discards. Human observers currently do this monitoring, but in 2016 and 2017 the Council recommended that electronic monitoring be used in the midwater trawl whiting, fixed gear, non-whiting midwater trawl, and bottom trawl fisheries as a less expensive or more flexible alternative to human observers.

The Council considered electronic monitoring while planning the catch share program, but opted to continue using observers and increase the observation level to 100%. The Council also required that the industry, rather than NMFS, pay for the monitoring. When the catch share program was put in place, NMFS agreed to pay for a portion of the observer costs to help the fleet through the adjustment period. In September 2015, the industry was required to pay the full cost. For vessels, the requirement to pay for vessel observers is one of the most expensive compliance costs associated with participation in the catch share program.

All vessels are billed for observers on a per-day basis, so observer costs are the same for both small and large vessels. Because of this, individual fishing quotas could migrate to vessels with higher revenues, leaving fewer small harvesters in the fleet. Finally, the observer fee system puts pressure on vessels to fish in unsafe conditions. Because vessels are billed per day both for at-sea and for standby time during a trip, vessels may incur higher costs for standing down due to bad weather. Although much of the information collected by observers for catch share monitoring (mainly accounting for discarded fish) could be collected through electronic monitoring, cameras cannot completely fulfill all scientific monitoring needs. Therefore, under the EM program observers will still be necessary to collect biological samples to support stock assessments and other important fishery-dependent information, such as interactions with protected species.

The Council will continue to work with the industry and others as issues arise to provide additional recommendations to NMFS.

For NMFS policies and information on past exempted fishing permits, please see the links on the left side of this page. Click here for a detailed history of West Coast Electronic Monitoring Program development.

Current activities

Current issues relate to:

  • Video review. NMFS and the Council’s Groundfish Electronic Monitoring Policy and Technical Advisory Committees will begin developing draft business rules to implement Third-Party video review. This includes examining the level of video review necessary to audit logbooks and to audit video review providers. Agency staff and advisory bodies are discussing ways to reduce video review to the minimum level necessary to audit logbooks, as well as the decision points for increasing and decreasing the level of video review based on compliance and other factors.

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