The Case for Electronic Monitoring Systems

February 05, 2021

Some of the fisheries that MTC members participate in require 100% monitoring, which has traditionally been achieved by human observers. These individuals ensure that all fish harvested and/or discarded at-sea are accounted for. The cost of hiring an observer, through an observer company, ranges from $475-$550 per day in addition to paying travel and on-boat living expenses. Additionally, human observers take up limited space on fishing vessels and are sometimes unavailable. Depending upon the fishery, the lack of an observer may mean that the boat cannot legally leave on a fishing trip.

EM MonitorIn order to minimize the expense of monitoring and eliminate the uncertainty that may come with human observers, MTC members have been actively involved in utilizing electronic monitoring (EM) systems. Vessels that deliver to shoreside processors used cameras from 2004 – 2010 as a way of documenting that no fish were being discarded improperly. Since at-sea whiting boats deliver to an at-sea mothership without ever bringing the fish on board, they did not need a camera. When the Trawl Individual Quota (ITQ) program was implemented in 2011, it required 100% human observation on all catcher vessels and cameras were discontinued. After a few years, managers decided that cameras could be tested again as a way to replace human observers in the at-sea and shoreside sectors. Beginning in 2015, MTC vessels were able to use camera systems to monitor their whiting trips on the West Coast and, as of 2019, EM systems have been deployed in pollock fisheries up in Alaska.

Vessel owners contract with an approved EM provider and the vessels are then outfitted with an EM system that includes several cameras strategically placed to ensure views of the back deck and immediate surroundings. The system is automatically triggered on when fishing gear is deployed. The Captain is responsible for noting all catch and discards in their logbook. The cameras record from gear deployment straight through until an offload at a processor occurs.

EM systems use hard drives that are removed by the Captain and mailed to Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission for review.  The reviewer takes an independent look at the video to ensure that the information matches up with what was written in the logbook.  EM systems provide more robust monitoring since they are continuously recording, unlike human observers who are … human and require sleep and can otherwise be preoccupied with human activities.

Seeker TrawerSuccessfully utilizing EM systems has resulted in huge cost savings to the fleet. In the west coast whiting fishery, the annual monitoring expense can now be less than $10,000 versus the tens of thousands of dollars previously spent yearly on human observers.

MTC is pleased to play an active role in the development and use of EM systems. Executive Director Heather Mann was even featured in a NOAA Fisheries summary of women advancing electronic technology in fisheries. You can read about Heather and others here.