Installing electronic monitoring (EM) systems on commercial fishing vessels leads to higher accuracy in logbook data, according to a new analysis of Australian fisheries published online this month in the journal Marine Policy. That in turn should lead to better management and healthier, more sustainable fisheries.
In Australia, fishermen are required to record all catch and discards in their logbooks so authorities can accurately assess the effect on the target species and track interactions with protected species. Despite this requirement, studies have shown that inaccuracies in reporting are rife throughout commercial fisheries, with some operators underreporting or not reporting catch or interactions with threatened species, or misrepresenting their catch. And although Australian fisheries are touted as some of the most strictly managed in the world, many still lack comprehensive data.
Installing electronic monitoring systems could improve the quality of those data. EM uses computers, gear sensors, and video cameras to record fishing activities—information that is reviewed and verified by trained observers on shore. (See Figure 1.) Starting in 2015, EM systems were required for several fisheries in Australia. But how can authorities verify that the technology is increasing the accuracy of what fishermen report in their logbooks?
The study, undertaken by members of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, analyzed logbook data from 44 vessels that targeted tunas, billfish, scale fish, or sharks in eastern and southern Australia between 2009 and 2016 to determine if implementation of the EM requirements changed the amount of fish that fishermen reported they caught and discarded. The researchers found that fishermen noted that they discarded a significantly higher amount of fish and had more interactions with endangered and threatened species after EM was put in place. This suggests that adding the EM systems led fishermen to more accurately report their actions on the water.
These results further strengthen the case for authorities around the world to require EM on commercial fishing vessels. Currently, most regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), the international bodies responsible for regulating fishing on the high seas, require only a small percentage of vessels in waters they oversee to be observed, and none requires the installation of EM systems. Combined, these RFMOs cover most of the ocean. With thousands of vessels at sea, there is no guarantee that the official information on catch, discards, and interactions with endangered species is accurate or complete.
But the implementation of EM in Australia shows that it is possible to strengthen observer coverage through remote technology, resulting in improved logbook accuracy and better data collection. The study also suggests that RFMOs should work toward adopting the policies and procedures, and building the infrastructure necessary, to support 100 percent observer coverage—either human or electronic—on all the fishing vessels they manage.
Jamie Gibbon is an associate manager with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ global tuna conservation campaign.