Beginning in 2018, Alaska fishermen, some of whom may not have the space on their vessel or life raft capacity for a NOAA Fisheries observer, will have the option to use an electronic monitoring (EM) system instead.
NOAA Fisheries is integrating EM into the North Pacific Observer Program for the 2018 fishing year. An EM system uses cameras and associated sensors to passively record and monitor fishing activities—work traditionally accomplished by human observers placed onboard commercial fishing vessels to collect data.
Information collected by observers while aboard commercial fishing vessels is crucial to sustainable management of Alaska’s multi-billion dollar fishing industry. NOAA Fisheries restructured the North Pacific Observer Program in 2013 to—for the first time—place fisheries observers on small boats between 40 and 60 feet, and boats harvesting halibut in Alaska.
Some small boat owners and operators identified unique issues with carrying an observer.
They advocated for the choice to use an EM system instead of carrying an observer.
Boat owners worked with NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to develop the EM technology that works best in Alaska for collecting fishery data. The EM systems developed can effectively identify almost all species or species groupings required for management. NOAA Fisheries would use EM to collect catch and bycatch data from vessels while fishing.
“NOAA Fisheries and the Council are making progress in meeting the needs of fishermen by providing an option for electronic monitoring,” said Jim Balsiger, NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator for the Alaska Region. “This program is a first step toward automating observer data for the very specialized North Pacific fleet. The results will be important as we evaluate this technology’s success.”
Under NOAA’s final rule, EM technology will only be available to owners and operators of fixed gear (hook and line, and pot gear) vessels in the “partial coverage category” of the observer program, in which the agency places observers on randomly selected vessels (not vessels in the full coverage category, which requires observers on all vessels). Full coverage vessels have separate requirements for video monitoring systems for compliance monitoring purposes only, not catch estimation.
Participation in EM is voluntary, and each year vessel owners or operators would need to apply by November 1 to participate in EM instead of carrying an observer. If meeting eligibility criteria, the vessel would be placed in the EM selection pool and NOAA Fisheries would randomly select trips among participating vessels to use an EM system. Vessel owners and operators who do not volunteer for EM would remain subject to observer coverage.
Vessel owners and operators that volunteer would have responsibilities to make sure the EM system is working and to send the video storage devices back to NOAA Fisheries for review.
The final rule published in the Federal Register today, and is effective September 7, 2017.
For more information, visit NOAA Fisheries Alaska Regional Office web pages.