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Electronic Monitoring

NOAA Fisheries is investing in technology fishermen can use to track their catch to assist in making data collection more timely, accurate, and cost-efficient.

A map of all electronic monitoring projects throughout the United States.

Electronic monitoring is a tool used to collect fishing data that support and improve stock assessments and ensure that catch limits are sustainable in the long term. NOAA Fisheries is investing in technology that fishermen use to track their catch. These new technologies hold promise in making data collection more timely, accurate, and cost-efficient.

Current Electronic Monitoring Programs

In the U.S., nine electronic monitoring programs have been implemented. These include:

  • Several different uses of electronic monitoring in Alaska fisheries, including the small-boat fixed gear program using electronic monitoring to collect data on catch.
  • The use of electronic monitoring to monitor the incidental catch of bluefin tuna in the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery.
  • The Northeast has two electronic monitoring programs in the groundfish fishery, a logbook audit model on smaller vessels and for compliance with maximized retention on larger vessels.

There are also several electronic monitoring projects and programs under development with some expected to be fully implemented in the next few years. These include:

  • West Coast: Electronic monitoring in the groundfish fishery, full implementation scheduled for January 1, 2024.
  • Alaska: Electronic monitoring in the midwater trawl pollock fishery, full implementation scheduled for January 1, 2025.
  • Pacific Islands: Electronic monitoring in the pelagic longline fishery.
  • Additional Projects: Pilot projects are underway in Alaska and several fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Chart displaying vessel participation in electronic monitoring over fiscal years 2017-2023.
Approximate number of vessels participating in various stages of EM across the nation (regulation, pre-implementation, and pilot).

Electronic Monitoring Policies and National Guidance

NOAA Fisheries published a national policy directive in 2013 (updated in 2019) to provide guidance on the implementation of electronic technology solutions in fishery-dependent data collection programs.  Per the directive, electronic technologies include the use of vessel monitoring systems, electronic reporting, video cameras, gear sensors, and automated image processing for electronic monitoring, data collection technologies for human observers, and other technologies that can improve the timeliness, quality, integration, cost effectiveness, and accessibility of fishery-dependent data. The overarching policy laid the groundwork for subsequent policies specifically for electronic monitoring programs.

In May 2019, NOAA Fisheries published a procedural directive for allocating costs of electronic monitoring programs between NOAA Fisheries and the fishing industry in federally managed U.S. fisheries. This directive provides a transparent and consistent framework for NOAA Fisheries and industry to identify and discuss the respective cost responsibilities in any program. NOAA Fisheries published guidance in April 2020 on how long an electronic monitoring service provider should retain imagery when the fishing industry is responsible for maintaining non-federal records.  In addition, and in conjunction with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), NOAA Fisheries in May 2021 established a 5-year retention schedule for electronic monitoring imagery that are deemed federal records.

In May 2022, NOAA Fisheries published a third procedural directive on applying information law to EM data, including the Federal Records Act (FRA), the confidentiality provisions of section 402(b) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  The guidance is intended to provide clarity on how electronic monitoring imagery is managed, protected, and shared by the federal government. 

NOAA Fisheries is required to review a policy directive or procedural directive every 5 years, and will update each of the policies as programs continue to mature and evolve.

Electronic Monitoring in the Future

The largest costs of most electronic monitoring programs are manual video review, data transmission, and storage. Computer vision and machine learning applications based on annotated image-training datasets offer the potential of greatly reducing costs while improving accuracy and providing data in near real-time. Currently, these tools are being developed for processing imagery to identify species; estimate weight and length; enumerate fishing gear (e.g., counting hooks on a longline); or simply determine if a vessel is in transit or fishing (i.e., whether catch is on board). There are also several examples of phone-based or tablet-based image capture, these greatly expand the ability to collect and share data from small-scale commercial and recreational fisheries.

Last updated by Office of Science and Technology on December 12, 2023