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Searching for a Cost-Effective Approach to At-Sea Monitoring

Jan 5, 2014
Winter 2014

For many fishermen in New England groundfish sectors, shouldering the costs of at-sea monitoring (ASM) could signal financial ruin for their fishing businesses. Since the implementation of sectors over three years ago, ASM costs remain a major concern for the industry. For example, in fishing year 2011, the total expected ASM costs were $4.7 millions, equivalent to more than 5% of the total $90 million groundfish landings value. To date, monitoring costs have been covered by federal funds without guaranteed federal support after April 2014. Once federal funds run out, the fishing industry is on the hook. 

In an attempt to reduce the high costs of ASM, managers and fishermen are working to develop strategies towards a more cost-effective and equitable monitoring system. Guiding this work are the three main ASM objectives stated in Amendment 16 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan. Observer coverage must be: 1) fair and equitable, 2) statistically random, and 3) representative of the fishing activities of all the boats in the sector. 

Currently ASM coverage is based on three variables: sector, gear type, and area fished. This approach allots equal coverage regardless of the magnitude of landings and discards across all vessel types for all trips. Through analysis of fishing years 2010 and 2011, GMRI's Resource Economist, Dr. Jenny Sun, found that the present system results in more observers allocated to trips with low landings and discards, particularly dayboat gillnetters less than 50 feet in length. Dr. Sun also found that weighted discard volume (weighted by the utilization rate by stock per trip) is significantly influenced by the vessel size, gear type, and trip length. 

Based on these findings, Dr. Sun suggests a discard-proportional allocation scheme that allocates observer coverage based on discard volume by vessel size and gear type to ensure more equitable coverage across the fleet. Using this alternative approach would have incurred 1,691 fewer observer days and a total $1.5 million cost savings for fishing year 2011, while observing the same amount of discards. 

Through her work, Dr. Sun hopes that fishery managers may consider evaluating alternative monitoring allocation schemes. Ultimately, this could improve the overall accuracy and efficiency of the ASM program and provide some relief to smaller vessels faced with disproportionately looming ASM costs.

Read more: At-Sea Monitoring