New England Fisheries

The Cape Cod Times Supports Electronic Monitoring

Atlantic cod are considered a "choke species" in the Gulf of Maine. Photo credit: Dieter Craasman.

Monitoring in the groundfish fishery has been somewhat of a contentious issue, especially more recently when NOAA Fisheries announced they would be transitioning the cost of the at-sea monitoring program to the industry. A recent editorial in the Cape Cod Times provides some background on at-sea monitoring, the ongoing court battle over its cost, and possible options to improve the program.

In a fishery managed through output controls, i.e. catch limits, it’s particularly important to understand the impacts of fishing on stock abundance. At-sea monitoring, as the Cape Cod Times says, “aims to provide accurate data on what is caught and what is thrown back. Accurate assessments support effective management and more successful fishing. Cost aside, monitoring can help fishermen.”

The issue, though, is much more complicated than monitoring vs. no monitoring. There is ongoing disagreement on the appropriate amount of monitoring and there are complications related to economic incentives. For fishermen in the Gulf of Maine who are catching fish with a low catch limit, “their options are to throw legally landed fish back into the ocean to avoid the choke species mechanism that limits the harvest of abundant stocks, or to take the fish back to port to be counted against the quotas, and hasten the day the fishing season comes to an end.”

It could be argued that this is a reason for increased monitoring coverage, but not all would agree.

In the meantime, as the court case over transitioning the cost of at-sea monitoring to the industry enters the appeal process, there are options to consider other than human on-board observers. Electronic monitoring has proven effective in other fisheries and in other regions. It can also be more cost-effective in the long term.

As the Cape Cod Times concludes, “We would like to see [full] electronic monitoring pursued more aggressively, as we consider it superior to human monitors in terms of cost and efficiency. We believe it will play a part in the ultimate goal of providing a consistent source of reliable data to better achieve the conservation and economic goals of federal fishing regulations.”

You can read the full editorial here.


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