Thursday, 7 March 2019

Gathering Fishery-Dependent Data in the Digital Age

There's plenty of initiatives both in the EU and across the pond in the US to further develop the integration of digital technology in order to collect, track and store catch data. Much of this work is being driven by the need for quota management accountability and stock assessment. Increasingly, fishermen are aware that the more data they have the more power and therefore potential control they have over the fisheries they target.  Arguing your case with nothing but anecdotal catch evidence together with landing data will not appease or meet the scrutiny of those who would have the industry held to account over over-fishing.

A guide for managers and scientists:

Why this guide?

Every day, more people are bringing digital data collection tools onboard fishing boats, from personal mobile phones to systems of integrated cameras and gear sensors. For managers, scientists, fishers, and anyone involved in ocean conservation, this presents opportunities to bring faster, more accurate data into management. This guide is to help you think through which tools might make sense for your fishery, and what questions to ask before adopting them.

Fisheries Innovation Fund

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), commercial and recreational fisheries had combined sales impacts of over $208 billion in the United States in 2015. However, some U.S. fisheries are struggling, both biologically and economically. As of 2017, NOAA reported that 35 stocks are categorized as overfished and 30 are categorized as subject to overfishing.

The Fisheries Innovation Fund releases two requests for proposals (RFPs) each year to work towards sustainable fisheries in the United States: a Fisheries Innovation Fund RFP and an Electronic Monitoring and Reporting Grant Program RFP.

Fisheries Innovation Fund RFP

NFWF launched the Fisheries Innovation Fund in 2010 to foster innovation in fisheries and seafood production in order to sustain livelihoods, working waterfronts and sustainable access to fisheries while rebuilding fish stocks. The fund supports the participation of fishermen and their communities in securing sustainable fisheries in the United States.

Fisheries Innovation Fund funding priorities include bycatch reduction, recreational fisheries and offshore aquaculture including activities to build community capacity and encourage sustainable use practices. Most projects have originated locally to address needs, challenges and opportunities at the community level.

Electronic Monitoring and Reporting RFP

The Electronic Monitoring and Reporting Grant Program was launched in 2015. The program seeks to advance NOAA’s sustainable fisheries goals to partner with fishermen, stakeholders, state agencies and Fishery Information Networks to systematically integrate technology into fisheries data collection and observations, and streamline data management and use for fisheries management. The program aims to improve the quality, quantity, and timeliness of fisheries-dependent data. Projects awarded under this opportunity catalyze the implementation of electronic technologies for catch and compliance monitoring, and improvements to fishery information systems.

To date, the Fisheries Innovation Fund has awarded grants totaling over $20.3 million to 127 projects across 26 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These awards have been matched by over $22.5 million dollars from the grantees, for a total conservation impact of $42.8 million.

Major funding for the Fisheries Innovation Fund is provided by NOAA, the Walton Family Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Kingfisher Foundation. Mitigation funds received through NFWF's Recovered Oil Fund for Wildlife have also contributed to the program, with grantee organizations and additional public and private funders providing matching funds.


New Report Shows Ending EU Overfishing and Protection of Privacy Achievable With Remote Electronic MonitoringBrussels, March 7, 2019:- A report published today, Legal Opinion on Video Monitoring on Fishing Vessels with Special Focus on Other Comparable Cases, shows that the use of video monitoring, or Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM), can be used on board EU fishing vessels to ensure proper catch reporting, and to end illegal discarding of fish under the EU’s Landing Obligation, without impinging on privacy, or contradicting data protection rules.

The report, commissioned by Our Fish, demonstrates that while there are justifiable concerns around REM, these are not reason for inaction. Other sectors, such as the meat industry, are dealing with the same challenges, showing that it is possible to have effective monitoring while conforming to data protection requirements.

“Protecting privacy while ending the wasteful practice of discarding dead and dying fish at sea can be achieved by using video monitoring on board fishing vessels”, said Rebecca Hubbard, Program Director of Our Fish.

The EU’s ban on discarding dead or dying fish back into the sea, known as the Landing Obligation (LO), was part of the 2013 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, and strongly supported by EU citizens. The aim of the Landing Obligation is to end discarding and drive change in fishing practices, e.g. avoid catching unwanted and non-valuable fish, incentivise improvements in selectivity, count everything that is caught, and promote ecosystem-based management.

However five years on, the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) has assessed that a majority of fishing activities using active gears, e.g. trawling, are still at risk of discarding, along with increased illegal and unreported fishing. In response, the European Commission is proposing to use a review of its Control Regulation to introduce Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) [1]; however concerns have been raised over privacy and data protection.

“This legal analysis demonstrates that privacy and data protection are not barriers to video monitoring of fishing. Programming and video technology can avoid impinging on privacy and personal data, vessel operators can own the footage, and governments and scientists can utilise the data to audit records allowing for greater knowledge of catches, fish stocks, and ultimately achieve better fisheries management”, continued Hubbard.

“It is essential that EU decision-makers take a solutions-based approach to implementing onboard video monitoring, so that we put an end to widespread illegal, unreported fishing, which undermines ocean health, consumer trust and the industry”, said Hubbard.

For video monitoring on board fishing vessels to comply with the Landing Obligation and to fully document fisheries, Legal Opinion on Video Monitoring on Fishing Vessels with Special Focus on Other Comparable Cases suggests that legislators and operators should consider:

CCTV surveillance of risk groups: When there is cause to suspect non-compliance with legal requirements, temporary monitoring of the fishing activities would be appropriate.

  • Avoiding personal data: Monitoring only the technical process without making individuals identifiable. This would also mean the GDPR would not apply [2].
  • Anonymisation: Monitoring the entire process and pixelating any recorded persons in such a way that identification is not possible.
  • Data minimisation: Limit the video monitoring to a minimum time i.e during landing, sorting and processing the catch.
  • Data ownership and review: Vessel operators may be the owners of the footage, the review conducted by a third party, and the resulting data provided to governments for auditing purposes of catches and landings. 

This audited data could also be shared with other interested or relevant parties such as scientists.


[1] Control Regulation:

[2] Since May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) covers data protection and privacy for all individuals in the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA), and covers the transfer of personal data outside the EU and EEA. It gives control of data to individuals while simplifying the legislative framework for data managers.

Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data


Dave Walsh, Our Fish Communications Advisor, +34 691826764

Rebecca Hubbard, Our Fish Program Director, +34 657669425

About Our Fish

Our Fish works to ensure European member states implement the Common Fisheries Policy and achieve sustainable fish stocks in European waters.

Our Fish works with organisations and individuals across Europe to deliver a powerful and unwavering message: overfishing must be stopped, and solutions put in place that ensure Europe’s waters are fished sustainably. Our Fish demands that the Common Fisheries Policy be properly enforced, and Europe’s fisheries effectively governed.

Our Fish calls on all EU Member States to set annual fishing limits at sustainable limits based on scientific advice, and to ensure that their fishing fleets prove that they are fishing sustainably, through monitoring and full documentation of their catch.


Follow Our Fish on Twitter: @our_fish

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Adding to the mix on tech in the fishing industry - just yesterday at the World Congress Summit in Dubai EDF launched its Smart Boat Initiative:

New initiative to harness digital revolution to accelerate sustainable networked fisheries

(Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – March 6, 2019) Today at the World Ocean Summit being held in Abu Dhabi, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) announced the launch of its Smart Boat Initiative designed to accelerate the exploration and adoption of powerful new technologies to greatly improve sustainability, efficiency and profitability in the fishing sector across the globe.

The new initiative focuses on leveraging the technological advances and plummeting costs in sensors, artificial intelligence, broadband communication and data analytics to equip and surround fishing vessels of all sizes with digital tools and infrastructure that can increase sustainability, accountability and transparency in fishing.

“Just as smart phones provided a platform for a wave of innovation, we believe there is an equally unprecedented opportunity to usher in a new era of sustainability in the global fishing sector led by digital transformation,” said Katie McGinty, Senior Vice President, EDF Oceans program.

The Smart Boat Initiative builds on important work being done by a variety of other NGOs, academic institutions, businesses and governments all focused on deploying technology in the service of sustainability. EDF’s goal is to work with these stakeholders and fishermen to demonstrate the transformative power of technology with on-the-water pilot projects, scientific inquiries and policy advances across a variety of fishery types and scales.

As part of the Smart Boat Initiative, EDF Oceans released a new report on the significant opportunities of using advanced technologies to help fisheries and fishing businesses, two new guides on how to implement electronic monitoring technology, as well as the results from recent pilot projects on the U.S. West Coast and in Mexico’s Gulf of California.

With this initiative, EDF aims to address the critical problem of fishing vessels and fleets remaining isolated and disconnected when at sea. This means accurate and timely data about what is being caught and discarded rarely reaches scientists and managers. Even on vessels with human observers or new electronic monitoring systems, data can take weeks or even months to reach the end user. Meanwhile, fishermen at sea lack access to oceanographic, market and other real-time data that could inform their choices about where and how to fish.

These problems can be addressed through a combination of existing technologies that can be deployed on fishing vessels – and around them – at a variety of scales. For example, cameras on fishing vessels can be linked to pneumatic sensors and triggered only when fishing activity occurs. These data can then be highly compressed and transmitted wirelessly through broadband satellite or near-shore wireless data services. Artificial intelligence can also recognize species and help track catch. Scientists can access these data in near real time and make far better decisions about fishery health than ever before. And fishermen will have better access to supply chains and better information out at sea.

“This new initiative seeks to deploy technology to help solve one of the most urgent challenges of our time, overfishing,” said McGinty. “A critical element of the initiative is that it aims to provide fishermen with the tools to play a leading role in solving that problem.”

Even in countries with advanced management like the U.S., fishery monitoring is conducted with outdated systems, often a human observer using pen and paper. In countries with a higher proportion of small-scale fisheries, the data information gap is even more acute. As a part of the Smart Boat Initiative, EDF is bringing together learnings from pilot programs in both commercial and artisanal fisheries that put cameras and telecommunications technology on vessels in order to track and record information to inform policy, science and management.

“In far too many fisheries, a lack of timely data frustrates even the best of intentions,” said Project Director Johanna Thomas. “But most fishermen want access to more powerful tools to take control of their futures and work together to deliver both business and conservation outcomes.”

EDF is also releasing two new guides on electronic monitoring focused on a wide variety of fishing scenarios from near-shore small-scale fisheries to larger fleets. These guides will provide insights to help develop best-in-class standards. They are designed to provide information on how best to use and scale these technologies in ways that can inform good science, work financially for fishermen and governments and produce positive conservation outcomes for fisheries.

“We believe this set of technologies represents widespread benefits, not only for future conservation, but also for fishermen today,” said McGinty. “But without more work to refine these technologies, build them with fishermen’s needs in mind, increase deployment and share best practices, fisheries will remain stuck in the digital dark ages. That’s why we’ve launched the Smart Boat Initiative and why we’re optimistic about the future health of the ocean and all those who depend on it.”