This is part two of our interview Rick Bellevance, a charter fisherman out of Point Judith, Rhode Island and a member of the New England Fishery Management Council, about his experiences using electronic monitoring and reporting. In this part, we focus on electronic monitoring. Read Part 1 for Rick’s take on electronic reporting.
Getting Started in Electronic Monitoring
You just recently started a pilot project using cameras to attempt to verify eVTR recreational fishing reports. Why did you start this project?
I started the project on electronic monitoring as a way to validate my electronic vessel trip reports. I grow frustrated with folks who feel like they need to double, triple, and quadruple check our vessel trip reports. I honestly believe that we all try hard to accurately report what we catch and what we throw back. This was my way of being able to show a full season of how my business works. So those cameras are, in my opinion, recording what I already know, and I want to have an opportunity to show that to people.
Where are the cameras located on your boat?
One camera is on the railing on my bridge that shoots down into the cockpit and captures all the anglers in the back of the boat and all of the fishing activity. There is a second camera that is focused straight down on the station where we generally measure all the fish to determine if they are legal-sized or not. And so as I understand it, they can take the images from the angler reeling in the fish. Then the fish is then captured by the camera where it gets measured, and you can see whether the fish is discarded or retained. That system validates the numbers of discards and kept fish that we reported.
Have you seen the video? How are the cameras on the vessel working out so far?
I did see a little snippet from the program. It’s really cool how you can see the fish get caught on the first camera, and then see the fish measured and tossed or kept on the second camera.
Balancing Expense with Data Quality
Now that you have seen some footage from these cameras, do you think that having them would be a good way to verify recreational catch?
I think they could be. I think the question is probably going to be: Is the expense of this system and the monitoring of the images worth what we’re getting out of it? We don’t catch a ton of fish, so how far off can I be? Is it worth putting all this equipment on that boat and paying someone to watch all that film? Where is that money going to come from?
Are there any other thoughts on electronic monitoring or reporting you would like to share?
We’ve asked a great deal from the charter/for-hire industry over the last couple of years. They’ve had to learn some new things and to adjust their day-to-day operations to accommodate these new reporting requirements. As we go forward, we really need to think of ways to make all their effort provide some kind of benefit to the recreational fishing industry. Right now, I don't think we’re seeing a benefit.
What do you see as the future of technology in fisheries?
As freaky as it is to me, I think the future is in artificial intelligence. Soon, you’ll be able to send off your footage from an electronic monitoring system to a computer system that counts everything up and spits out the data. Standardizing the data collection process is moving along quickly, and I hope that will continue to improve, and ultimately have us all on one system.