Welch: Monitoring could go tech

Starting this year and for the first time, fishery observers are required aboard Alaska’s long line fleet of roughly 1,500 boats, most of which are well under 50 feet.

Observers have been aboard other types of Alaska fishing vessels for decades to collect data and monitor catches and bycatches; now scientists and managers want a better idea of what’s coming up on those miles of hooks and lines, no matter what the vessel size.

Small boat fishermen are clamoring to displace the observers with cameras, which are proving to be a good set of eyes. EMS has been used on large Bering Sea boats for several years, and fishery managers have grappled with how to move cameras beyond compliance functions to culling reliable research data.

“We know we can use camera technologies, and we already have it regulated and operational,” said Martin Loefflad, director of NOAA Fisheries’ Monitoring and Analysis Division of the North Pacific Observer Program at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.

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