NOAA Fisheries is proposing to integrate electronic monitoring (EM) into the North Pacific Observer Program. An EM system uses cameras and associated sensors to passively record and monitor fishing activities—work traditionally accomplished by a human fisheries observer.
Observers are trained biologists who collect scientific information while aboard commercial fishing vessels. This information contributes to the best available scientific data used by fisheries managers, scientists, and policymakers to sustainably manage Alaska’s multi-billion dollar fisheries industry.
When NOAA Fisheries restructured the North Pacific Observer Program in 2013, it was the first time fisheries observers were placed on small boats between 40 and 60 feet, and boats harvesting halibut in Alaska. Under NOAA’s proposed rule, EM technology would only be available to owners and operators 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).
Some small boat owners and operators of these vessels identified unique issues with carrying an observer. Small boat owners said they did not have the space in the boat or on their life raft for the 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.
Participation in EM would be voluntary, and each year vessel owners or operators could apply 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 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 proposed rule filed with the Federal Register today. Once published, it opens a 60-day public comment period. NOAA Fisheries will also hold three public hearings on the proposal:
Alaska: April 6, 2017, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Alaska local time, at the Hilton Hotel, 500 W 3rd Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501 (to be held in conjunction with the April meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council);
Washington: April 18, 2017, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Pacific daylight time, at the International Pacific Halibut Commission office, 2320 West Commodore Way, Suite 300, Seattle, WA 98199.
Oregon: April 19, 2017, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Pacific daylight time, at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, Lavern Weber Room, 2030 SE Marine Science Drive, Newport, OR 97365.
For more information, visit NOAA Fisheries Alaska Regional website