National Fisherman's Melissa Wood shares her stories as a writer and editor covering the U.S. fishing industry.
Tuesday, 06 May 2014
For our June issue I wrote about electronic monitoring. The story starts with the well-known frustration commercial fishermen feel toward regulators. In Massachusetts, groundfish fishermen have been demonstrating through pilot programs for 10 years that electronic monitoring should be an option for small boats that are challenged with squeezing a human observer onboard. However, implementation remains out of reach for the members of the Cape Cod Fishermen's Alliance.
"We got stuck trying to cross that threshold from pilot to full implementation," says Tom Dempsey, policy director for the alliance, "and that's still where we are right now."
It turns out that commercial fishermen on all U.S. coasts have been looking into electronic monitoring. The movement is especially strong on the West Coast, which makes sense since that region's groundfish fishermen are required to have 100 percent observer coverage.
They pay about half the cost of observer coverage now, but the push for cameras on boats is not just about cost. Paul Kujala, a fisherman out of Warrenton, Ore., told me that for some small ports it's just not feasible to have observers ready and available when the time is right for a boat to go out.
It's not that electronic monitoring hasn't been proven to work. It's working for fishermen right now in British Columbia. But that plan was developed with cost as a primary consideration, said Sarah McTee, a fisheries consultant with the Environmental Defense Fund who coauthored the group's Fishery Monitoring Roadmap:
"They either had to start monitoring their program or stop fishing, and they realized that human observers were going to be expensive, that if they required 100 percent human observers they would lose some small vessels on their fleet. So they started at the back end," she said, by asking, "How much money do we have? What can we afford? And they had scientists come in and review how to design a program."
So we know that electronic monitoring is important for some fishermen to remain viable on the water (and catch accountability is probably going to keep increasing), and we know that it can be done. But going back to the Cape Cod fishermen's dilemna, what about implementation?
Hope is not lost. Dempsey is encouraged by national efforts to push electronic monitoring forward (or else he wouldn't get out of bed in the morning, he told me). In January a national workshop brought different regions together to talk about monitoring. Let's hope that if one U.S. fishery can make it work, it will pave the way for others to follow.
You can learn more about these efforts in the story, "Camera ready," beginning on page 27 of our July issue.
Photo courtesy of Dan Falvey
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