Local fishermen have wrapped up the second year of a pilot project testing an innovative approach to improving catch monitoring in the New England groundfish fishery. Seven Gulf of Maine fishermen have been testing digital camera systems to document the amount of fish being caught and discarded at sea. "Using the electronic monitoring system really didn't add any extra work to our fishing day, and I think it is something that fishermen will get behind if it can give us a safer alternative to taking human observers on our boats,” said Troy Bichrest, a project participant who fishes out of Cundy’s Harbor.
During fishing year 2014, the fishermen collected data on over 150 fishing days with both gillnet and trawl gear. The overall goal of the multi-year project is to develop an accurate, cost-effective alternative to the human observers that fishermen are currently required to carry on their fishing boats.
The collaborative research team—led by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Community Sector, and Ecotrust Canada—has also been coordinating with NOAA. “We need to get better information on catch and discards into the management process if we are going to rebuild our groundfish populations and sustain our fishing businesses,” said Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and one of the project partners. “It’s clear to me these video monitoring systems can help make that happen.”
In April, Ecotrust Canada published a final report detailing the conclusions of the second year of the study. The report details how the system performed on each vessel, the quality of the data collected, and compares the data collected using the electronic monitoring system to data collected by fishermen and onboard at-sea observers.
“Throughout this project, the team has coordinated with NOAA, and is helping to shape future policies regarding how fisheries are monitored,” said Jessica Gribbon Joyce, program manager at GMRI. This winter and spring, the research team worked with NOAA to develop design elements for the new 2015 fishing year, both on the water and shoreside in NOAA’s offices where the data will be reviewed and processed. The goal was to design a project in 2015 that will support the implementation of an operational electronic monitoring program in 2016, where cameras are used instead of at-sea monitors. “The seven project participants have done an amazing job of collecting data on the water, and once the analysis is complete, we hope the results and collaboration with NOAA will prove that the system can be used in a regulatory environment in 2016,” said Geoffrey Smith, marine program director at The Nature Conservancy in Maine.
See the Year 2 Final Report at www.gmri.org/electronicmonitoring