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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Holy Grail of Real-Time Data - a timely post from the #GAP2exchange team's Lyme Bay exchange trip.

In this third blog post on the Lyme Bay team’s #GAP2exchange trip, fisheries consultant Andy Woolmer gives us an insight into what was learnt – and explains why a love of data means more efficient fishing for the Morro Bay community.


"The dust has settled and I have finally caught up on my inbox after our fantastic GAP2 Exchange to California. The past couple of weeks have given me time to reflect on our experiences over on the West Coast and the many conversations that we had with fishermen, conservationists and scientists.

Our original intention for traveling to the Pacific from the English Channel was to learn how collaborations to gather key management data and information had been developed between scientists and conservation NGOs, with fishermen working in the fisheries. We certainly did that but as a group we learned so much more.

The learning experience was certainly not all one way as we quickly realised that some of the methods that Blue Marine and the members of the Lyme Bay Reserve working group are developing really are leading the way.

A case in point is our development of a data recording App that is linked to an inshore Vessel Monitoring System (iVMS). Our colleagues at TNC have developed a similar APP and have been exploring its potential and uses with some success. It was clear that a data collection platform, linked to the iVMS, represents something of a holy grail for us fellow marine data geeks.

Santa Barbara beach © Emma Pearson Santa Barbara beach © Emma Pearson The benefits of real-time data

What I found most interesting was how this data was already being used to inform fisheries management in real time and how that directly improved the economics and efficiency of the fishermen’s businesses. TNC showed us how they had recently used fishing activity data from vessels in their Community Quota Trust to inform a sustainability assessment by Seafood Watch that resulted in Rockfish species being listed as “good alternative” rather than “avoid”. Without the evidence of fishing activity and effort this would have been impossible.

The use of real-time catch data of what we call “choke” species, those species for which fishermen have a very limited quota, was very exciting. The members of TNC’s risk pool, which holds members quota for sensitive species, report on any catches of “choke” species daily. This data is mapped and made available to the members to enable them to avoid aggregations. By avoiding these areas they are able to continue to fish for species that they have quota for and improve their efficiency. On their own, once they had caught all of their “choke species” quota they would be forced to tie up their boat for the rest of the season.


Santa Barbara Harbour © Emma Pearson

We met some great scientists down at Santa Barbara who were working with fishermen engaged in crab fisheries. Reading their reports and hearing about their challenges brought it home that we all have the same problems on both sides of the Atlantic; inability to carry out stock assessments due to insufficient stock information, lack of funding, logistical issues of working at sea etc. Their approaches to develop fishermen self-sampling were fantastic and have given me some ideas. It was nice to meet fellow scientists so keen to work with fishermen and to see how collaboration can work to improve both fishery management and the lot of the fishermen.

Lobsters in Santa Barbara © Emma Pearson 
I was surprised by the seemingly hands-off or arm’s length approach that the fishery regulators and managers have in California. Maybe this is as a result of the size of the place but I am accustomed to a situation where we can ring up the local IFCA and talk to either the local officer or, more often or not, the Deputy or Chief Officer about an issue. Actually, they ring us too. This is a strength of our inshore fishery management structure and although we often grumble as an industry it was clear that it could be far worse.
Concluding thoughts

Our discussions up and down the coast ranged far and wide, and were certainly not limited to dry and sterile subject of data collection or statistics. We learned that Individual Transferable Quotas were unpopular with the fishermen despite them often being lauded as a solution to solve all of the resource allocation issues. The situation in Morro Bay before the formation of a Community Quota Trust, which acts to keep the fishing quota within the community, sounded pretty serious from a socio-economic perspective. The ability of fishermen to sell on their ITQs had resulted in them becoming owned or leased by fishing vessels or processors from out of the area. This in turn resulted in vessels fishing, operating and landing their fish from other ports which threatened the shoreside processing and servicing businesses in Morro Bay. We tried to imagine what would happen in somewhere like Lyme Bay if we had the same ITQ situation there; the feeling was that that local fisheries would end up being fished by large vessels from larger ports where markets and facilities exist to make the operation profitable. A win for economic efficiency but surely a loss for the character and heritage for our small coastal communities.


All in all it was a very productive exchange trip. I personally returned full of ideas and the promise of future collaborations with colleagues in California. The Lyme Bay group were all taken aback by how accommodating our hosts were and we all hope that we can return the favour in the not too distant future."

@GAP2_project / #GAP2exchange 

For further information, images or quotes, on this exchange, please contact Katrina Borrow on Katrina@mindfullywired.org