An electronic monitoring program aimed at keeping fish harvesters in compliance with catch limits, incidental catch rules and other marine regulation is under fire from a national non-profit group dedicated to upholding environmental laws and values.
“Cost-effective electronic systems that meet both regulatory and scientific demands are nowhere near deployment,” says Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Ruch noted in a statement released on Oct. 28 that earlier this year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a series of white papers cataloging an array of obstacles and options on electronic monitoring, but provided no definitive guidance. “Grafting 21st century technology onto the decks of an 18th century industry is no simple task,” Ruch said.
At the same time, NOAA has vowed to adopt a number of reforms by the end of 2013 to address safety and enforcement concerns raised by fisheries observers, he said, and if implemented, these reforms will give individual observers greater autonomy and may further increase industry pressure to replace them.
Currently, fishing fleet compliance with NOAA-administered rules is monitored by fisheries observers. Heightened accountability requirements imposed on fleets will increase the number and scope of observer coverage, leading to industry lobbying for cheaper alternatives, PEER contends.
NOAA Fisheries officials asked to respond to PEER’s comments said that NOAA and the fishing industry share a common goal of getting the appropriate amount and quality of data most efficiently in terms of time and money.
“Right now, the agency is working with a variety of stakeholders, including the councils and industry, to identify the best way to gather the data needed to manage federal fisheries effectively, said NOAA spokesperson Fionna Matheson.
“Electronic monitoring is one approach that’s been identified,” she said. “And while electronic monitoring will be a good tool, it’s not going to replace or eliminate the need, in some fisheries, for human observers.
“Moving forward, the agency is looking at an approach that may use a mix of electronic monitoring/electronic reporting and existing methods, such as human observers,” to collect data,” she said.
NOAA plans to identify by the end of 2014 which fisheries would be good candidates for this technology, and in 2015 and beyond, challenges associated with electronic monitoring will be addressed in additional discussions, she said.