Highlighting Women in Electronic Technologies: Part 1

March 24, 2020

We are highlighting women that support electronic technologies in U.S. fisheries in a two-part series to celebrate Women’s History Month.

Electronic monitoring and electronic reporting technologies are being developed to support science-based management decisions in commercial and recreational fisheries. NOAA Fisheries is working with fishermen and industry organizations, fishery management councils, and many other partners. We will improve the timeliness, quality, cost effectiveness, and accessibility of fishery-dependent data by integrating technology into fishery reporting and monitoring programs. Learn about nine women from around the country who are helping shape the future of electronic technologies in U.S fisheries.

Julie Bonney

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Owner and Executive Director
Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, Inc.
Kodiak, Alaska

Julie Bonney was born and raised in Colville, Washington, a small logging and farming community in eastern Washington. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from University of Puget Sound and her master’s in environmental science from Drexel University. In 1984, Julie moved with her husband to Kodiak, Alaska. In the early 1990s, Julie reached out to the then-owner of Alaska Groundfish Data Bank (AGDB), Chris Blackburn, for advice about joining the observer program. As a mother of three young children, Julie soon realized that being an at-sea observer was not feasible. Instead, Chris offered Julie a job as an analyst. She continued to work there and eventually bought the business. 

Julie and her company have been involved in three electronic monitoring projects since 2007.  First, AGDB tested at sea electronic monitoring for vessels that participated in the Central Gulf of Alaska (CGOA) Rockfish Limited Access Privilege program in 2007 and 2008. The results of this project showed that observer coverage was similar in cost to monitoring with cameras. Currently, AGDB is involved in two projects:

  • The Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) for pelagic trawl pollock fishing using electronic monitoring (EM) for compliance monitoring in both the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea pollock fisheries.
  • EM as an audit tool so that fish ticket counts of salmon reported by processors can be used in the catch accounting system to inform the hard Chinook salmon cap for the rockfish fishery in the CGOA (1,200 fish).

Within her current role, Julie enjoys problem solving and working with fishermen and processors. She also enjoys improving fishery management in collaboration with the trawl sector and NOAA Fisheries personnel.

“As a woman in fisheries, you must demonstrate your capacity and be one of the smartest people in the room. Have the confidence and be strong-willed enough to step outside traditional roles. Women have the ability to think more globally and be more multidimensional which is essential to solve our fishery problems since the fishing industry is so complicated and multilayered.  As a mother and a woman, I tend to mother my membership (some of the people I work for actually call me ‘mom’).”

Ruth Christiansen

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Policy Analyst and Science Advisor
United Catcher Boats
Seattle, Washington

Originally from the Bay Area in California, Ruth Christiansen spent her formative years in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. She pursued her bachelor’s degree in marine biology from Southampton College (part of Long Island University) and her master’s degree in marine policy from the School of Marine Affairs at the University of Washington. After, she worked as a marine educator in the Bay Area and as a fisheries observer in Honolulu before heading to graduate school at the University of Washington. She earned a master’s of marine affairs with an emphasis on policy analysis and fisheries management.

She has since worked for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. Now, she works for United Catcher Boats, a non-profit trade association. It represents and advocates on behalf of the majority of the trawl catcher vessels that participate in the trawl fisheries in the Eastern Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, Gulf of Alaska, and West Coast regions. 

Within her current role, Ruth is one of three principal investigators for an exempted fishing permit (EFP). They are is exploring the use of electronic monitoring systems coupled with shoreside observers at the processing plants for compliance monitoring purposes onboard pelagic pollock catcher vessels in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. This EFP includes three diverse components of the Alaska-wide pelagic pollock fishery. Each sector has different motivations and incentives for wanting a regulated electronic monitoring program.

Ruth enjoys being an active part of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council process as both a member of the advisory panel and an interested stakeholder. She also values representing and working on behalf of a group of dedicated vessel owner/operators and fishermen.

“I have the tremendous opportunity to work alongside with and learn from the highly talented women who were part of the industry before me as well as seeing the increasing number of women that are becoming part of the industry.”

Heather Cronin

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Fisheries Technical Assistance Program Manager
Gulf of Maine Research Institute
Portland, Maine

Heather Cronin is from Foxboro, Massachusetts and spent summers exploring the woods of Maine and the coast of Prince Edward Island, Canada. She received a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Colby College in Maine. She earned a master’s degree for her work on bioluminescent Arctic plankton communities. Soon after graduate school, Heather became a fisheries observer with the groundfish fleet in New England. Subsequently, she began work at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute as a video analyst. She then moved on to manage the Maximized Retention program, and now leads the Fisheries Technical Assistance Program.

Heather currently runs the maximized retention electronic monitoring program in the Northeast groundfish fishery. The program is a compliance-based model, targeted at developing electronic monitoring practices for high-volume groundfish vessels. She partners with artificial intelligence experts to develop automation for electronic monitoring video analysis, focusing on recognition of important fishing activities. 

Heather particularly enjoys the collaborative process of working through electronic monitoring  challenges with fishermen and managers. The projects she works on are truly a joint effort with fishermen who pilot them. They range from climbing around a vessel with the captain to find the best camera locations to brainstorming to find a creative protocol that overcomes a technological challenge. Sometimes, it’s working with a manager to ensure that project data provide the best possible information. Often the relationships she develops foster new ideas and generate future projects. In all aspects, she finds it exciting to partner with fishermen to integrate technology into fisheries data collection and develop data-based innovations. 

“Diverse perspectives, including those of women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and other marginalized identities, benefit every industry. More opportunities exist for women in electronic technologies than ever before, and my experience has been largely positive. I am proud to know many women working in electronic technologies, but we still have more work to do to create space and opportunities for everyone to contribute.”

Kate Kauer

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Fisheries Program Director
The Nature Conservancy, California

Kate Kauer grew up in Pennsylvania where she developed a deep interest in oceans and fisheries through her time spent with family in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She earned her undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire where she focused on marine ecotoxicology. She then continued her education, earning her graduate degree in Environmental Science and Management from University of California, Santa Barbara.

Kate has worked in different positions with The Nature Conservancy for nine years. Currently, she directs the California Fisheries Program where she leads a team that partners with fishermen, community leaders, managers, and other stakeholders to develop and demonstrate climate-ready solutions that support healthy oceans, thriving fisheries, and resilient communities.  As part of her job, Kate is involved in a collaborative electronic monitoring (EM) program. She helped establish and implement an exempted fishing permit for up to 7 California Groundfish Collective vessels in the groundfish fishery. Since 2015, the EFP project has tested the use of EM on over 300 fishing trips and results are providing insight for the implementation of future EM programs in other fisheries around the country. Kate continues to be involved with the development of electronic monitoring programs and policies both at a regional and national level.

The most enjoyable part of her current position is getting to work with people across many interests: fishermen, fishing industry, managers, council members, conservationists, and other stakeholders.

“Being a young female in fisheries can be intimidating. It is helpful to find female role models within the industry who can act as mentors.”

Heather Mann

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Executive Director of Midwater Trawlers Cooperative
Newport, Oregon

Heather grew up in Massachusetts and studied psychology at Ithaca College. She transitioned into the fisheries industry 25 years ago, where she started as a temp at the Pacific Fishery Management Council. She then joined the staff at West Coast Seafood Processors Association. She worked her way up to her current position as Executive Director of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative (MTC). The cooperative is a not-for-profit industry trade association that represents the interests of midwater trawl commercial fishing vessels at local, state, regional and national fisheries management levels. Heather helped to pioneer the current electronic monitoring (EM) program in the West Coast region starting in 2015, when MTC co-sponsored an exempted fishing permit for EM in the whiting fishery.  Within that fishery, there are currently 31 vessels using cameras instead of human observers. Heather works collaboratively to develop EFP programs into regulation. She also serves on the Electronic Monitoring Committee for both the Pacific and North Pacific Fishery Management Councils.

As a representative of fishermen in the industry, Heather finds her job rewarding yet challenging. She truly believes in the commercial fishermen she represents and enjoys helping them tell their stories.

“As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I have never felt that people haven’t taken me seriously. If anything, I have been given more respect by the people I encounter. However, like many career women, I do find it challenging to balance having a family and being successful in my career.”