Alaska fishermen and industry representatives have been concerned with the cost of electronic monitoring. Senate Bill 209 put in place would allow the Board of Fisheries in AK to require electronic monitoring within state fisheries. Gov. Mike Dunleavy introduced the bills last month, making it possible to use electronic monitoring instead of mandatory observers aboard fishing vessels.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game would manage the program. According to KFSK, commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang told the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee that the bill is meant to create another tool for fisheries enforcement.

“I think the question comes down to right now, the only tool that the board has, when they’re concerned about a fishery, and the potential for some violation occurring in that fishery, is to put an observer on board. They don’t have any other options. I think adding this tool to the toolbox gives the board another option.” Vincent-Lang shared.

“On a small boat, electronic monitoring would not inconvenience the boat operator by having to bunk that person and have them on the deck space while they’re fishing,” he said. “That would be an opportunity not to inconvenience that boat owner with those kinds of presences on deck.”

Vincent-Lang further states that the cost of electronic monitoring would be significantly cheaper than having an observer. The cost of an observer can be up to $700 a day. According to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, installation of the electronic monitoring equipment can cost upwards of $17,000 per boat, with an annual maintenance cost of more than $5000 per boat.

Sen. Forrest Dunbar (D-Anchorage) shared that since very few state-managed fisheries require observers, it’s inaccurate to compare the cost of observers to the cost of electronic monitoring.

“It’s not that we’re really reducing costs from observer to electronic. We’re going from nothing to electronic monitoring, which would significantly increase costs for these boats,” he said.

Executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska, Tracy Welch, told the committee that UFA opposes the bill in part because of the expected cost to fishermen. She said she’s concerned that many fishermen cannot afford it, especially under the current state of the seafood industry. She also mentioned another problem: fishermen would be unable to fish if it becomes mandatory until the equipment is repaired.

“I talked to one of my board members yesterday who is currently facing equipment issues for a cod fishery, and he is currently waiting for someone to come to his boat to fix it, and he cannot leave until that happens,” Welch said. “So, if this is really about enforcement, can we possibly put more money towards enforcement rather than electronic monitoring?”

Verbal and written comments show opposition to the bill as it is currently written. The concern with potential costs that would fall on fishermen was top of mind, as well as government overreach and surveillance.

Find Senate Bill 209 here.

Have you listened to this article via the audio player above?

If so, send us your feedback around what we can do to improve this feature or further develop it. If not, check it out and let us know what you think via email or on social media.

Carli is a Content Specialist for National Fisherman. She comes from a fourth-generation fishing family off the coast of Maine. Her background consists of growing her own business within the marine community. She resides on one of the islands off the coast of Maine while also supporting the lobster community she grew up in.

Join the Conversation