Wider Use of Electronic Monitoring Would Yield Broad Benefits for Eastern Pacific Tuna Fishery

Tool offers cost-effective way to improve, increase data collection among longline vessels

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Wider Use of Electronic Monitoring Would Yield Broad Benefits for Eastern Pacific Tuna Fishery
An illustration of fishing boats on the high seas.

For years, managers and scientists overseeing fisheries in the high seas have wanted better data on catch, bycatch, fishing effort and compliance with regulations. Such data often comes from human observers onboard vessels, but in many places—including the eastern Pacific Ocean—observers aren’t required on a large portion of the fishing fleet.

One potential solution to increasing data collection is requiring the use of electronic monitoring (EM) onboard fishing vessels, including for the eastern Pacific tuna longline fleets that currently have very low observer coverage. A new report by economists from Sea Change Economics, an environmental economics consultancy; the University of California, San Diego; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration looked at the costs and benefits of implementing EM on eastern Pacific longline vessels and found that wide adoption of the technology could benefit the fishery economically.

The analysis first looked at the costs and benefits of the current required level of oversight for the eastern Pacific Ocean longline tuna fleet—which is having human observers on 5% of fishing trips—and then compared them to the estimated costs and benefits that would accrue from a variety of potential scenarios, including installing EM systems onboard every vessel and then analyzing footage from an increasing percentage of fishing activity. To account for the possibility that costs and benefits may fluctuate over time, the study analyzed each scenario 10,000 times and then determined the average result for each scenario.

The report concluded that increasing data collection using EM would lead to up to US$200 million in net benefits across the fishery over 10 years due to factors such as increased scientific data, reduced mortality of bycatch species, increased market premiums for tuna, and better compliance with fishing rules and regulations.

This report adds to the evidence that EM can be a cost-effective tool in the quest for better fisheries oversight and that it should be used to complement efforts by human observers to inform science and reduce opportunities for illegal fishing. Bolstering monitoring efforts is particularly important to ensuring the sustainability of the data-poor eastern Pacific longline fishery, whose catch was worth approximately US$833 million in 2018. And while this study focused on just one longline fishery, the methods used can serve as a framework for economic estimates of other fisheries.

The study yielded two broad findings:

  1. EM adoption is very likely to produce a net-positive economic benefit. On average, compared to the status quo of 5% human observer coverage, using EM and reviewing 20% of the data gathered on fishing activity would lead to more than US$180 million in net benefits across the eastern Pacific longline fishery. Many of these benefits, such as increased scientific data and bycatch mitigation, are broadly beneficial to society. But the fishing industry, which could bear some of the upfront costs of installing EM equipment, would also collectively benefit: Higher compliance with fishing regulations could translate to less illegal fishing, and improved monitoring and verification of quality could lead to market premiums for the catch.
  2. Scaling up review of EM data is cost-efficient. Once EM systems are onboard vessels, increasing the percentage of video footage reviewed is relatively inexpensive compared to the initial cost of installing the hardware. For example, the cost of increasing review rates from 20% of EM data to 100% is less than 40% of the cost of the initial EM investment.

Wide adoption of EM by the eastern Pacific longline fleet would result in significant economic rewards and bring managers much-needed data on the tuna catch and vessel interactions with vulnerable species, including sharks and other non-target species. As governments, fishers and other stakeholders work towards long-term sustainability of marine life, they should look to EM as a critical component of smarter fisheries management.

Raiana McKinney is a senior associate and Esther Wozniak is a principal associate with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ international fisheries project. 

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