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.


Jan. 16, 2023

By Rick Osborn, Oregon Coast Visitors Association

Buying local seafood promotes human rights.

TILLAMOOK – When consumers sit down for dinner, they don’t necessarily think about whether anyone was harmed in the making of their meals.

But in some cases, the seafood on our very plates carries the legacy of human rights abuses. Seafood imported from overseas has been linked to labor abuse, human trafficking and illegal fishing practices. Eating Oregon seafood is the best way to know that no one was purposely harmed to bring delicious foods to consumers’ plates.

A recent study commissioned by the Oregon Coast Visitors Association – the destination management organization serving the entire Oregon Coast from Washington to California – found shockingly that about 90 percent of the seafood consumed on the coast is imported from other distant domestic and international sources.

In 2021, nine of the 10 top countries importing seafood into Oregon are characterized as medium to high risks on the Global Slavery Index. Illegal seafood accounts for $2.4 billion (11 percent) of sales in 2019. In fact, Oregon’s top seafood importer – China – has ranked as the top country whose policies are contributing to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. An estimated 1,800 pounds of wild-caught fish are stolen from global seas every second due to these kinds of practices.

In response to these and other factors affecting the environment and Oregon coastal economy, OCVA has launched the Ocean Cluster Initiative. The initiative aims to help the Oregon Coast’s communities keep local seafood local in order to capture more economic and environmental value from the catch, as well as promote human rights.

“Respect for people of all countries and cultures as well as the ability to travel freely and safely are core values of tourism,” Oregon Coast Visitors Association Executive Director Marcus Hinz said. “Therefore, directing the purchasing power of our industry towards products and services which are in direct contradiction to our values makes no logical sense, particularly when we possess the ability to clearly differentiate high-quality Oregon seafood products from low-quality, imported seafood tainted by highly suspect human rights violations.”

According to a 2022 report by The Outlaw Ocean Project, cell phone videos were found dating back to 2014 that capture dramatically the murder of multiple deck hands onboard vessels in international waters. It has become well documented that in other countries individuals are often kidnapped and forced to work as slaves onboard vessels. One tuna long-liner, called the Indian Star, is owned by a Taiwanese company and flagged to Seychelles. It has a long history of violations, including forged licenses and fishing in forbidden areas. The captain of that boat was convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison for ordering the killing of several deckhands.

A report by The New York Times published in September noted that many other countries’ fishermen and others are throwing false GPS coordinates to hide their actual locations. Chinese fishing fleets use technology to hide their operations in protected waters off South America. The same technology is used to conceal stops in Iranian oil ports, smuggling weapons and drugs and other illegal activities. With international waters seemingly operating as the “wild west,” one way to discourage such behaviors and eliminate human rights violations on the open sea is to be diligent about supporting Oregon seafood.

While Oregon’s top-quality products tend to be exported, the state imported about $105 million in seafood in 2021. In the meantime, Oregon Coast visitors spend about $840 million on food stores and food services annually, according to a 2019 Dean Runyan and Associates study. While a massive amount of locally sourced seafood is exported, it is replaced on visitors’ plates by internationally harvested seafood that may be linked to crimes. Buying local products discourages acts of piracy, human rights violations and a number of other crimes that have become rampant out on the international high seas. It also supports jobs right here in Oregon.

“Oregon’s fisheries are the lifeblood of our coastal and tourism economies – supporting jobs that families rely on and supplying communities across our state and around the world with exceptional products and experiences,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said. “I’m thrilled the USDA has recognized the important work the Oregon Coast Visitors Association does for both Oregon’s fishing and aquaculture industry, as well as our great state’s tourism industry. The grant OCVA has received will support its important work, helping to establish and strengthen the much-needed infrastructure for our fisheries to efficiently operate and thrive, and help our tourism industry bounce back stronger than ever.”

For more information about the program, those interested can go online to