Partnering with the Fishing Industry to Monitor the Northeast Shelf
Fishermen collect environmental data to improve ocean models and inform their own fishing practices.
More than 100 fishing vessels in New England are involved in our Environmental Monitors on Lobster Traps and Large Trawlers (eMOLT) program. They attach low-cost oceanographic sensors to their gear to collect bottom water temperatures, temperature profiles, and dissolved oxygen data from their fishing grounds. These data are transmitted in near-real time to the vessel and numerical oceanographic models. They’re also shared with data visualization and access platforms, such as the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Associations of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems which helps us make the data accessible to more scientists and mariners who can put it to use.
Fishermen engaged in eMOLT gather critically needed environmental data to advance our collective understanding of how changing ocean conditions are affecting fisheries resources and fishing practices.
With access to environmental data in realtime, fishermen are able to make informed modifications to their fishing practices. These could include resetting gear away from areas of low-oxygen or targeting a specific temperature band in the water.
The primary users of eMOLT data, aside from the fishermen themselves, are scientists who specialize in developing ocean circulation models. The oceanography of the northeast U.S. continental shelf is dynamic. The sub-surface oceanographic data needed to inform ocean models in this region are insufficient. So, these scientists use data collected by ocean monitoring programs, such as eMOLT, to initialize their models and validate the model outputs.
Improved ocean current models benefit:
- Ecologists trying to understand larval transport
- Coast Guard crews undertaking search and rescue missions
- Weather forecasters working in coastal areas
- Many other users of the marine environment
By contributing near real-time data to ocean modelers, eMOLT participants provide an important service to the regional scientific community. They also improve their own understanding of their fishing grounds.
To minimize cost, we have partnered with private sector scientists and engineers to develop new systems for monitoring the ocean environment. Currently, eMOLT participants deploy:
- Long-term bottom temperature loggers
- Real-time temperature and depth probes
- Real-time temperature profilers
- Real-time dissolved oxygen probes
Gear types range from lobster traps and gillnets to bottom trawls and hydraulic clam dredges. All of the real-time systems transmit data wirelessly to a onboard computer each time the gear comes on board the vessel. On-board satellite and cellular transmitters enable rapid transfer of data from these systems back to servers on shore.
Fishing Community as Partners
Fishermen already spend their days at sea, and have a large stake in understanding and preserving our coastal marine resources. By partnering directly with the fishing industry, we seek to democratize ocean science. We’re empowering fishermen to document their experiences and use that data to inform oceanographic research in our region. Their continual presence in nearshore waters provides a cost-effective complement to traditional ocean observing systems that have sparser coverage in space and time.
Our science center initiated eMOLT in 1995. It is now administered in partnership with the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation. It relies on support from fishing associations, state agencies, non-profits, and the fishing businesses that form the backbone of so many coastal communities in our region.
Although eMOLT originally worked mostly with New England’s lobster fishing fleet, the program has expanded to include participants from nearly every fishery and gear type in the region. Partner vessels now span the northeast from Cutler, Maine to Cape May, New Jersey with representatives in every major port.