Making Progress On Tough Ocean Problems Through Technology

Photo montage: Our Fish

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) held a workshop this week with the goal of advancing the use of new technologies such as electronic monitoring and electronic reporting in order to better and more safely monitor and manage U.S. fisheries — which is arguably overdue and will significantly help to manage fisheries in the face of climate change. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of Senators passed out of committee several pro-conservation bills, including one creating a grant program to protect the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale, another to create a program at NOAA to create a publicly-available digital information platform capable of efficiently integrating coastal data with decision-support tools, and another one to improve the government’s efforts to combat marine plastic pollution and other marine debris.

Why This Matters:  Any conservation bill that passes the Senate has a good chance of becoming a law, which is good news for whales and for ocean health.  Environmental groups cheered these actions.  Patrick Ramage, the Marine Conservation Director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare said, “It’s great to see this swift, bipartisan Senate action.  Americans from sea to shining sea and across the political spectrum want to protect critically endangered right whales. The SAVE Act is a common-sense measure to help fishermen, mariners and other stakeholders do exactly that.”  Let’s hope these bills sail through the House and become law.  And given all this Congressional “generosity,” NOAA might want to seize the moment to push through whatever funding or authorizations it needs to make electronic monitoring in fisheries a reality.    

The Electronic Monitoring Workshop Take-Aways

The electronic monitoring workshop revealed a growing consensus around the use of electronic tools to both report catches in a more timely way, and to monitor fishing activity on the fishing boat – where, when and how much fish was caught — in order to create a way to trace fish from the boat to a plate.  Fishers are increasingly recognizing that with data (as opposed to anecdotes) they will have more credibility in the discussions about fish stocks as they see them on the water, as well as helping to make it possible to sustain the fishing industry into the future.  Some hurdles remain — like cost and how to go from varied regional pilots to a consistent national program.

The bottom line from our eyes and ears inside the meeting:  “this workshop has reaffirmed that electronic technologies have been developed, improved, and proven to be effective in many fisheries nationwide over the last decade. However, more work is needed to transition away from the pilot phase as we begin to think about wider EM implementation domestically and internationally—specifically on data standards/integration, who bears the cost (industry, fishers, gov, grants) and better collaboration between stakeholders (industry/fishers/ngos/government).”

H/T to Friend of the Planet RF for helping us to share with you the results of the workshop!

To Go Deeper:  Check out this video on electronic monitoring pilots in European fisheries.

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