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Fisheries Monitoring 101

August 7, 2012

How are fisheries monitored?  There’s a whole range of options and the basic schemes are excellently outlined in Appendix A of EDF’s Catch Share Design Manual. I thought I might share a bit of that section here as I find these things aren’t discussed near often enough for how they affect fisheries management.

Hail Programs. A hail program allows a vessel operator to communicate their fishing activity to a central clearinghouse. They may report activities such as commencement and completion of a fishing trip, fishing location, scheduled landings, and offloadings of fish. Hail programs are often used by the enforcement agency to facilitate the logistics and planning associated with at-sea or dockside monitoring and surveillance. Departure hails, the notification of trip commencement, generally include identification of the vessel and skipper as well as the intended fishing plan, including target species, fishing location and time period. Landing hails generally include all of the details regarding landing location and time and may include information about what species are to be offloaded.

Vessel Monitoring Systems. Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) transmit vessel identity, speed and location via satellite to a central database. They are commonly found on commercial fishing vessels participating in federally regulated fisheries, especially where there is a need to track vessel location. Some fisheries also use VMS to increase safety or to provide vessel hail information. The Certified Vessel Monitoring System includes a computer, a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit attached to a vessel, and backend software that receives the data and information from the vessel transponder. The VMS program also requires centralized data management on the backend.

At-Sea Observer Programs. At-sea Observer Programs have independent human observers onboard vessels to record vessel and fishing location, fishing activity, catch (retained and released) estimates, compliance with fishing rules (closed areas, mandatory retention, gear restrictions) and to collect biological samples and information.

Electronic Monitoring Program. Electronic Monitoring (EM) Programs use cameras, sensors and Global Positioning System units onboard vessels to record vessel and fishing location, fishing activity, images of catch (retained and released) and compliance with fishing rules (closed areas, mandatory retention, gear restrictions). EM has been developed largely as an alternative to onboard observers, but it may also be used in conjunction with observers, particularly on large factory vessels and 24-hour operations. EM also requires onshore labor to analyze the data. EM is a system of cameras and sensors that detect fishing activities and collect video records of fishing events. EM supports industry data collection activities by providing a tool to audit self-reported data. An audit involves comparing a sample of vessel logbook data with the EM coverage. Given proper incentive structures, an EM audit functions as a ‘radar trap’ and can improve the quality of self reported data. The audit results provide several products: a measure of logbook data quality, an independent sample of fishing activity and an avenue for providing feedback on logbook data quality.

Logbooks. A logbook is a report completed by vessel personnel that provides a record of fishing activity including fishing time and location, fishing gear used and composition of catch. The logbook can be either paper or electronic. Logbooks are most useful when combined with other monitoring approaches, such as dealer reports and electronic monitoring, to increase accuracy of the data.

Dockside Monitoring Programs. Dockside Monitoring Programs use independent observers at landing ports to monitor and report on the sorting and weighing of catch offloaded from fishing vessels (also referred to as a weigh master program).

Dealer Reports. Landings and sales slips are reports completed by the purchaser of landed fish. They provide a record of the vessel, landing location, buyer, species, product type, product value (usually) and amount offloaded. Product type and value are two data pieces that are rarely, if ever, collected elsewhere. Experience has shown that timeliness and quality of dealer data is dependent on the level of feedback and interaction by the fisheries agency. Where little feedback is given from managers, data quality is likely to be poor. In cases where interaction is high or there are consequences for poor quality or untimely data, the resulting data quality will improve.

There’s much more contained in the PDF linked above, including key questions to ask as you set up monitoring programs, the pros and cons of each basic approach, and the frequent combinations found in the real world.

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