Progress of Electronic Monitoring Program Scrutinized

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
“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
“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.