Discussion and consideration of electronic monitoring (EM) continues in many fisheries jurisdictions globally. Moving from pilots and trials to full implementation remains slow, however. There are many reasons for this. For example, understanding costs versus benefits; which program model to utilise (e.g., single service provider); whether to invest in internal government review to support local economics and job creation; and how artificial intelligence and machine learning should be factored in, since they are likely to affect review considerations.
Along with these uncertainties, another key question posed is “how do you implement an EM program?” Although relatively straightforward, this question remains one of the key barriers in many jurisdictions and a fundamental reason that uptake of EM remains relatively low despite the 20-plus years that this technology has been used for fisheries management. Of course, there is no definitive way to implement an EM program and it must be tailored to meet the requirements and needs of each jurisdiction plus, ideally, be tailored to the specific needs of each fishery.
Below I set out a formulaic approach to considering if an EM program will make a positive contribution to fisheries management. The intention is to support fisheries practitioners and stakeholders to consider how EM fits into the broader context of fisheries management and to enable integration of monitoring tools for effective fisheries management.
Consider Your Context
Legislative Framework and Policy Settings
As we are all aware, all fisheries jurisdictions have an overarching legislative and policy framework that the fisheries management is grounded in. These frameworks describe and outline the objective for the fisheries management and principles for the development and policy settings. For example, ecologically sustainable development, the precautionary principle, best available science, maximum sustainable or maximum economic yield, etc. It is also customary that as a common property resource, the fisheries’ management:
- is accountable to the taxpayers;
- is implemented with transparency;
- avoids impacts on associated and dependent species; and
- provides benefit to the community through cost effective implementation.
Noting the above, practitioners may consider the following questions to help understand and place EM within the broader fisheries management context.
- What are your drivers?
- What is your legislative framework and policy settings?
- What level of accountability and transparency is required for your stakeholders?
- Is economics part of your legislative settings?
- Is there associated and /or ancillary legislation that needs to be considered, for example environmental legislation, or work, health, and safety legislation?
In considering the answers to these questions, it is imperative for practitioners to understand their implications and what they mean in practical terms for the fisheries management regime. For example, if there is associated environmental legislation that needs to be met, does this have ramifications for the level of accountability and/or transparency requirements for the fisheries management itself? Similarly, work, health, and safety may be important considerations for the use of independent monitoring such as EM for fisheries. If the ramifications call for greater accountability, how can this be achieved, and what role can EM play to support this outcome?
A fundamental precept of fisheries management is the need to collect and have access to good, long term data sets. My perspective, highlighted in previous EM4Fish articles, is that fisheries management, including the selection and use of fisheries monitoring tools, must be data driven. As fisheries practitioners we know that data is used to inform:
- The population status of target species’ stocks, along with the populations of associated and dependent species and the impacts of fishing on these populations.
- The long-term trends in the populations and ecosystem itself and how it relates to and affects the target species and associated and dependent species.
- The implementation of more effective management measures, including monitoring, to minimise fluctuations in catches so as to maximise economic returns.
In considering an EM program, practitioners may like to consider if the fishery uses a full stock assessment, or a weight-of-evidence approach to stock assessment, and what are the minimum data required to manage the fishery? Have the data needs for the fishery been defined sufficiently? When were the data last reviewed? And are they fit for the purpose intended, particularly considering modern impacts and expectations of fisheries management?
Given that data is the essential ingredient for effective fisheries management, defining the data required and reaching collective agreement among all relevant stakeholders on that helps ensure that the most appropriate monitoring tool can be employed. This will help to simplify the monitoring program, as the historical approach of additive monitoring tools should now be replaced with programs that use the most appropriate and effective monitoring tool. To my mind, this means utilising the monitoring tool that provides independent verified data once, rather than collecting the same data field multiple times to verify the information. For example, interactions with large protected species: if EM can be used to collect data on interactions with these species, there is no need for fishers to record these interactions in logbooks unless the EM system fails.
The Fishery Specific Context
Define and Agree on the Data Needed for the Fishery
It would be wonderful if we could apply the same data, management and monitoring programs to all fisheries universally, but we all know that’s impossible. Fisheries need to be managed to meet the specific gear, species, impacts and needs of that fishery.
In considering an EM program, while noting that data (and not the tool employed) is what drives monitoring, fisheries practitioners would be wise to work closely with fisheries managers, scientists, compliance teams, fishers, and any other relevant stakeholders to consider the data available in the fishery. Specifically, how robust and reliable it is; the level of uncertainty in the data; whether it is providing sufficient confidence to managers and stakeholders; and critically if it is meeting the overarching legislative and policy framework.
It is also important to consider how uncertainty and/or confidence in fisheries data relates to inherent uncertainty in the marine ecosystem and the needs of the fishery. For example, is the fishery effectively managed using weight-of-evidence? If so, then perhaps the data being collected is fine and there is only a need to consider how to independently collect and/or verify that data point.
Another important aspect related to data and uncertainty is to consider if there are other imperatives for the fishery. For example, is the fishery managed on unverified data alone? Are there particular sensitivities where independent verified data is essential and will underpin confidence in the management? Are there third-party assessment and/or transparency drivers? Is there a need to future-proof the fishery through the collection of independent verified data?
Of course, these assessments are subjective. Hence the need to work collaboratively to agree on the data needs for the fishery and the level of uncertainty of that data for the management of the fishery. Not all drivers will be related to meeting legislative imperatives. Increasingly, industry is seeking to achieve specific outcomes to gain or retain access to markets and these too should be considered in the conversation about if and/or where EM fits into the data collection, verification and monitoring of the fishery.
Undertake Comprehensive EM Trials
To my mind, if there is an opportunity to trial EM it should be undertaken as comprehensively and holistically as possible, but I caveat this very squarely that a trial doesn’t equate to the use of EM in a fishery and of course I continue to come back to data (and not tools) driving fisheries monitoring.
The reason I advocate for comprehensive EM trials is that they enable all groups involved in the fishery to surface what is possible with the use of EM. A comprehensive trial helps build mutual understanding of what the fishery needs, what level of uncertainty is acceptable, how this particular tool can support delivering these outcomes and where it can’t. Importantly, it also builds comfort and trust with having cameras onboard boats.
In undertaking a comprehensive trial, I would consider if EM, for example:
- Can be used as a primary data collection tool replacing the use of multiple tools to collect the same data?
- Can be used for primary data collection only for certain species or circumstances, for example collecting data on protected species or in cases where industry is adopting changes to its on-deck practices. In relation to the latter, how practical are these changes under normal fishery operations?
- Can only verify data collected by other monitoring tool such as logbooks? If so, can it verify all the logbook data or only part of the logbook data?
- Can collect the data traditionally collected by observers? Where it is not able to do so—for example, with biological data—how will that data be collected? Will it reduce the workload of observers or free up time for them to collect other data important for the management of the fishery such as specific research projects or ecological data?
- Supports surveillance and compliance activities?
- Relates to the data collected by other monitoring tools?
In addition, we should ask: How will the program be funded in the long-term? Are cost recovery processes in place to support the ongoing program funding? Are there opportunities to provide incentives for the upfront implementation of the program? How will the ongoing replacement of the equipment be funded?
There may also be reasons to trial different systems, including sensor integrated systems or systems using onboard technology for event detection to see how they differ in the specific fishery you’re working in.
Developing an Integrated Monitoring Program
With the data needs agreed, including the minimum data needs, and the completion of a comprehensive EM trial combined with the knowledge of traditional monitoring approaches (logbooks, port sampling, VMS, observers, VMS, etc.), there is now scope for fishery managers and stakeholders to compare EM with these other monitoring tools.
Armed with information, and now able to step back, fishery managers and stakeholders are better positioned to consider which mix of monitoring tools best meets the needs of the fishery, including the need for independent verified data sources versus unverified data sources.
And there can also be a clearer assessment of:
- any duplication in data collection and whether or not the duplication is required;
- the cost of different monitoring tools;
- the benefits of those different tools; and
- other, less quantifiable benefits of EM.
Pelagic Longline as a Case Study
Much of the discussion of EM in Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) is centred on its application to the pelagic longline component of the fishery. If we step through the above process, we can make the following observations:
Overarching Legislative and Policy Framework:
- Key are the specific treaties responsible for the management of highly migratory species in the five tuna RFMOs, most of which make clear reference to the tenets from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, including: the sustainable harvest of resources; application of the precautionary approach; the need for compatibility between exclusive economic zones and the high seas; and the need for data collection and monitoring, among other things.
- Linked to that are the legislative instruments and policies of the member states that are party to the RFMOs.
Data including Minimum Data Requirements:
- The data requirements for the fishery are defined and have been agreed for the most part. A range of data collection and monitoring programs have been implemented across all components of the fishery.
- The pelagic longline sector remains a data-poor component of the tuna fisheries. There is some data, but it is not complete or as robust as is needed for stock assessment and harvest strategy purposes. There is quite limited ability to verify the data that is provided due to the very low observer coverage from the pelagic longline fleet as a whole.
Other imperatives for improving the data in the total tuna fisheries:
- There is continued pressure for greater transparency of the longline sector and improving understanding of the operation, catch, and impact of this sector on the target and associated and dependent species.
- Some parts of the broader fishery have third party accreditations that they wish to maintain and that require an understanding of all sources of fishing mortality.
- Trials have been undertaken in many locations globally with the support of FAO and non-governmental organisations, for example TNC’s support for trials in five Pacific Island States.
- These trials continue to prove the efficacy of EM as a monitoring tool for pelagic longline fishing and have made a significant contribution to EM discourse at the national, subregional, and global level.
- A specific jurisdiction may wish to supplement the outcome of these existing trials with additional elements to provide a comprehensive assessment needs relevant for the national level.
For the RFMOs, the use of EM in the pelagic longline fishing sector provides in many instances the only source of independent verification of activities onboard the fishing vessel and so easily integrates easily within the existing monitoring framework.
- For those RFMO member states that have had observer programs implemented, there would need to be dialogue on how EM fits with the existing monitoring program, such as observer programs. For example, where the member can choose to either implement an EM program or an observer program to meet the data needs – critically again it is about ensuring the collection of the required data rather than which tool is used to collect the data.
Whether EM fits into the integrated fisheries monitoring mix will depend on:
- the fishery;
- the current state of data in the fishery;
- the need and appetite for independent verified data;
- the level of comfort among stakeholders;
- the current monitoring arrangements; and
- how all of this supports the overarching fisheries management framework, legislation, and policies driving the fisheries management itself.
It requires a high level of collaboration across stakeholders and a willingness to explore what is possible. Critically, it takes time, but it’s also good to lock in the time-frames for the exploration to ensure the dialogue continues to move forward.
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