Management decisions rely on accurate accounting of commercial fisheries’ retained and discarded catch. In Alaska’s fixed gear groundfish and halibut fisheries, this is done through the North Pacific Observer Program. The Council has been working with the NMFS and industry members to develop an Electronic Monitoring (EM) system since 2013. The goal is to integrate the EM system into the human observer program, to cover vessels 40-57.5 feet long, which cannot easily or safely fit an extra person on board. In the long run, using EM could reduce the various costs associated with human observers.
The EM Workgroup is in the process of testing EM systems and figuring out how well they work with the fleets. The EM system is comprised of digital cameras, gear sensors, GPS receivers, and a data control center. Cameras are triggered by gear sensors to record catch, all of which must be handled within view of the camera. Back in the data control center, staff review sensor and video data to determine the completeness of video data and record species caught or discarded. This data can then be used to estimate catch and for in-season management.
EM development is moving forward quickly thanks to the hard work of the Council, agency staff, and the workgroup. It is very important to everyone involved in fisheries work that our biggest users have their catch and bycatch accounted for in the most accurate way possible. In the best case scenario, a joint observer/EM monitoring program will be in place by 2018. Tune in to October’s Council meeting to hear the development of the Workgroup’s plans.