From Civil Eats:
New England’s groundfish season is in full swing, as hundreds of dayboat fishermen from Rhode Island to Maine take to the water in search of the region’s iconic cod and haddock. But this year, several dozen of them are hauling in their catch under the watchful eye of video cameras as part of a new effort to use technology to better sustain the area’s fisheries and the communities that depend on them.
Video observation on fishing boats—electronic monitoring—is picking up steam in the Northeast and nationally as a cost-effective means to ensure that fishing vessels aren’t catching more fish than allowed while informing local fisheries management. While several issues remain to be solved before the technology can be widely deployed—such as the costs of reviewing and storing data—electronic monitoring is beginning to deliver on its potential to lower fishermen’s costs, provide scientists with better data, restore trust where it’s broken, and ultimately help consumers gain a greater understanding of where their seafood is coming from.
“Electronic monitoring is a tremendous tool,” says Brett Alger, national electronics technology coordinator for NOAA Fisheries. “It isn’t necessarily for everyone or every fishery,” but “we’re working collaboratively in all of our regions with fishermen on the ground to understand their needs. I expect it to grow.”
The technology is required for highly migratory longline species in the Atlantic (swordfish). It’s thriving in the Pacific coast groundfish industry, and dozens of other fisheries regions have pilot initiatives.
“I was dead set against electronic monitoring when it first started,” says Nick Muto, a veteran commercial fisherman based in Cape Cod. “I wasn’t in favor of having Big Brother over my shoulder all the time. There was a lot of gray area about what we were calling data. There were concerns about confidentiality and who would have access to the data.”
Once the fishery’s stakeholders were able to work through those issues; however, Muto decided to give it a go. Last year he installed cameras on his 45-foot vessel, the Dawn T. He opted to try the technology because he says he “was upset with the broken system of human monitors.”
Human observers are widely used to monitor catch in quota-managed fisheries, and they’re expensive: It costs roughly $700 a day for an observer in New England.
New England uses a “catch shares” system to regulate the groundfish fishery. Fishermen are allotted permits for the total amount of fish they can catch in one year and discards (e.g., juveniles) count towards that quota. Human observers serve as monitors to determine whether fishermen are accurately reporting their discards at sea. Fishermen are required to notify regulators about their trips 48 hours before they leave the dock.
While human observers are required this year on only 15 percent of trips under the Northeast’s At-Sea Monitoring (ASM) Program, the costs add up in an industry with very tight margins. Many fishermen also dislike having another person on board a small vessel.
“It’s an unsafe situation,” says Muto, a first-generation fisherman who got his start as a deck hand, cleaning lobster pots and sorting gear. “Sure, an observer has insurance, but on top of all the other headaches, I now have responsibility for this other person, with all their scales and baskets. It makes a small boat even smaller,” he adds.
Regulators began allowing cameras on New England’s dayboats (smaller fishing vessels that typically spend only a few days out at sea) as a substitute for human observers in 2016. Two other programs are still in the pilot phase in New England, including one for larger groundfish trawlers and one for the herring fishery.
Muto’s vessel was outfitted with cameras, at a cost of about $8,000, through a collaborative venture between NOAA’s regional office and science center, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, and the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. Camera costs are currently subsidized by NOAA Fisheries and its partners.
The cameras run the entire time Muto and his crew are out on the water. They record how the fisherman handle their discards, the fish they’re not allowed to keep because of size or species type, but that count towards their quotas. The cost is lower than what he’d pay for an in-person monitor.
The biggest cost of electronic monitoring, however, is the labor required to review the video. Someone has to watch all of the footage collected from two to four days out at sea, or even longer for the larger vessels. McGuire said that because the technology is still evolving, costs are higher than they would be after broad adoption; he noted that the cost of video review alone is between $300 and $350 per day.
One way to cut those costs is to spot-check the video footage and compare it to fishermen’s reports, in a “trust but verify” system, says Christopher McGuire, marine program director for TNC in Massachusetts. That approach is working in other fisheries, such as British Columbia’s groundfish fishery, where regulators view about 10 percent of the footage.
Using Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence
Another way to cut costs is to use computers to review the footage. McGuire says there’s been a lot of talk about automating the review, but the common refrain is that it’s still five years off.
To spur faster action, TNC last year spearheaded an online competition, offering a $50,000 prize to computer scientists who could crack the code—that is, teach a computer how to count fish, size them, and identify their species....MORE