Among the biggest problems with effective fisheries management has always been lack of relevant data and the time lag between information retrieval and action.
One tool the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hopes to use to close those gaps is electronic vessel trip reporting or eVTR.
Using the carrot and the stick approach, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service has begun requiring many fishermen to submit vessel trip reports electronically. NMFS’s carrot is that the results may eventually benefit all, and in some fisheries recreational fishermen’s data is being added to the mix, but for small-scale fishermen, the stick of punishment for non-compliance can feel too much, especially when the failure is generated by new technologies.
“It’s great when it works,” says Shelly Fleming Wigglesworth, who fishes commercially and runs charters with Mike Perkins, owner of the F/V Nor’easter, out of Kennebunkport, Maine.
“I have an Android phone and use the SAFIS app,” says Wigglesworth. “When the program first started, the apps were only compatible with Apple products. We had to go to a workshop in Massachusetts to learn how to do it, and take a day off from fishing, a whole day's pay, to do so. That is when they said we would have to buy an Apple product on our dime to use it, I told them we don't have Apple products. They said, ‘You can buy one used on eBay cheap.’ I said, ‘is yours from eBay cheap?’”
Since then, a number of software developers, such as Harbor Light and Team Fish have unveiled android compatible apps such as SAFIS and eLog, respectively, and Wigglesworth has gotten comfortable with it. “It is quicker, and less paperwork. You can scroll through and enter and send your eVTR within a few minutes. They just need to stop changing it, if they do, give us a heads up, and they should only release a program when it is compatible with all phones and products, not just what they are using.”
Massachusetts scalloper Adam Puslys is happy with the Apple-friendly Fishonline app.
“I use it with an iPad. Mostly happy with it,” says Puslys. “Wish it would remember your password or allow touch sign in though. Also, if your estimated reported landings differ from actual weight when you offload, you have to go back and edit.”
Others report serious problems with NMFS’ system.
“It’s great when it works, a nightmare when it doesn’t, paper VTRs gives you solid proof that you filled everything out correctly,” says fisherman Richard Cornell. In a Facebook post, another fisherman reported a legal event with NMFS due to software glitches, and that without paper backup he would have been fined.
“Short story long,” says longliner Mike Wild: “Mine failed to report for five, trips or whatever it was. Finally, the NOAA tech guy noticed it wasn’t reporting and that I had a trip missing, is my guess — I’m not very tech-savvy so I don’t know what the deal was. But he blamed me and reported me to the law enforcement division for failing to turn in a trip. “Basically, blaming me for not having their equipment working properly and passing the buck on to me. Luckily, I keep personal detailed logs of my trips and was happy to show the law enforcement division.
“Thankfully he was a cool, reasonable guy and saw I had a clean record with over 20 years of fishing and nothing to hide. He knew it was a waste of his valuable time. He even said to me, ‘I got better things to do than deal with this and real criminals to bust.’ I’ve since banned that tech guy from the boat and have a no trespassing sign that says, ‘If your name is [omitted] from NOAA this means you’ and will only deal with his superior if or when I have any future issues.
“But yeah, when it works it’s way easier than paper logs, but just make sure it’s working right and they don’t blame you for their errors and keep your own personal very detailed logs because that’s what saved me from getting a ticket. And always keep it charged or they have to reset it and it’s a pain to deal with especially if you have an incompetent tech guy.”
While the eVTR learning curve and buggy apps create problems for some fishermen, the bigger and broader data picture that eVTR offers resource managers means that eVTR is likely here to stay. But it would appear from Facebook comments that NOAA, app developers, and fishermen need to have a conversation.