Science News

Major Milestone for Electronic Monitoring of US Fisheries

NOAA Fisheries has reached an important milestone—the first fleet-wide implementation of electronic monitoring in the United States. As of 1 June 2015, electronic monitoring is required on all vessels fishing with pelagic longline gear in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Required by Amendment 7 to the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan, electronic monitoring is intended to provide an effective and efficient way to monitor and verify Atlantic bluefin tuna catches in the pelagic longline fishery. It provides an efficient means of verifying catches while minimizing the burden on fishermen and maintaining a viable fishery.

In a related story, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) awarded $3 million to 5 grant recipients working to systematically integrate new technologies into fisheries data collections and observations. The 5 NFWF grants help expand the use of electronic monitoring and reporting in recreational and commercial fisheries.

Q: Why is electronic monitoring necessary?

Electronic monitoring is necessary to verify bluefin tuna catches (landings and dead discards) in the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery, a fishery that operates throughout the Atlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and high seas. Individual bluefin tuna are often worth several thousand dollars and dead discards of bluefin tuna result in waste and foregone revenue. Before Amendment 7, between 150 and 200 mt of bluefin tuna were discarded dead during pelagic longline fishing for swordfish and other tunas. Under Amendment 7, NOAA Fisheries established individual bluefin quotas (IBQs) to increase individual accountability of pelagic longline fishermen and ensure the pelagic longline fishery stays within its quota. Because of the high value of individual bluefin tuna, and because pelagic longline fishermen must have IBQs to fish for other species with this gear, the ability to monitor and verify all bluefin tuna catches (landings and dead discards) is critical.

This action meets domestic management objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, including preventing overfishing, achieving optimal yield, minimizing bycatch to the extent practicable, as well as the objectives of the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act (ATCA) and obligations pursuant to binding recommendations of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).

Q: How does electronic monitoring work?

As of 1 June 2015:

• An electronic monitoring system consists of video cameras and related recording and sensing equipment (e.g., hard drives, computer monitors, etc);

• A vessel with an Atlantic Tunas Longline permit must have the electronic monitoring system installed, operable, and certified to depart on a fishing trip with pelagic longline gear onboard.

• The electronic monitoring system will be triggered to record the gear haulback and all fish must be brought into view of the cameras for identification;

• The recording equipment will record images of all fish onto the hard drive and vessel operators must send the hard drives to NOAA Fisheries after each trip where NOAA Fisheries technicians will then view those images to verify bluefin catches reported via logbook and vessel monitoring systems.

Q: Is the United States required to account for dead discards?

Yes, as part of its obligations as a member nation of ICCAT, we must account for both landings and dead discards within the U.S. quota. Accounting for all landings and dead discards is important for accurate stock assessments and to ensure U.S. compliance with ICCAT measures.

Q: Why is counting dead discards so important?

If NOAA Fisheries does not account for dead discards, then the United States runs the risk of exceeding its quota, which could have international repercussions.

Q: What is NOAA doing to protect the bluefin stock?

The United States has a record of seeking science-based management at ICCAT. The U.S. delegation has been successful in getting ICCAT to adopt some management measures to improve to the health of both the eastern and western Atlantic stocks, and we continue to push for ICCAT to take additional measure to ensure the sustainability of bluefin.

Q: What other electronic monitoring programs exist in the US?

In addition to this electronic monitoring program in the pelagic longline fishery, four fisheries in Alaska currently use electronic monitoring for fishery monitoring and EM is being implemented in fisheries in Alaska, the West Coast, and New England.

For more information, click here.

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