New report highlights barriers and opportunities for electronic technologies in U.S. fisheries

July 23, 2020
Tad Segal, (202) 572-3549

(WASHINGTON – July 23, 2020) A new report issued today from Environmental Defense Fund’s Oceans Program finds that resource managers, scientists, fishermen and seafood consumers stand to gain significant benefits from fisheries data collected through the increased use of technologies like electronic monitoring and electronic reporting, or EM/ER. Despite these benefits, EM programs have been slow to scale. The EDF report identifies policy and economic obstacles that have stalled a wider deployment of EM/ER in domestic fisheries and provides recommendations to policymakers for accelerating adoption of electronic monitoring and reporting and modernizing fisheries information systems.

“Getting EM/ER policy right is crucial because failing to do so would enshrine cost inefficiencies, outdated technology and burdensome requirements on the fishing industry,” the report states. “These impacts could prevent pilot projects from scaling and dampen enthusiasm from fishermen who might otherwise be interested in using EM/ER. In addition, a lack of clarity regarding how existing policies apply to EM programs can delay implementation.”

The report, Electronic Technologies and Data Policy for U.S. Fisheries: Key Topics, Barriers, and Opportunities, notes that widespread adoption of EM/ER technology could increase profits for fishermen and provide more accurate and robust scientific data to better manage fisheries for sustainability. In addition, with more robust datasets come innovative uses such as predictive mapping to reduce bycatch of protected species, adaptive management of fisheries under stress from climate change and seafood traceability programs that give consumers greater confidence about sourcing and sustainability.

“We are on the crest of a new wave of technological innovations that can make our fisheries smarter, more resilient and more profitable,” said Katie Westfall, director of ocean climate strategies and lead author of the report. “The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the importance of shifting toward electronic data collection that is critical for accountability and sustainable fisheries. The opportunities go even further if we design EM/ER programs and policies that allow both fishermen and managers to maximize the value of fisheries data.”

The report makes a number of recommendations that will accelerate adoption of EM/ER technologies. Some of the recommendations include:

- When designing new programs, create performance standards instead of more prescriptive approaches to allow for innovation, and emphasize cost effectiveness.

- Increase collaboration among all stakeholders and regions by expanding the sharing of best practices and technical guidance.

- Establish national performance standards for critical aspects of EM, such as data transmission, quality and type, but allow the regions to identify ways of meeting their specific EM goals, as appropriate.

- Revise data confidentiality policies for EM data and publish consistent guidance across the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS.

- Implement NMFS’s data modernization recommendations and provide robust funding to support them while advancing regional EM/ER efforts.

“This report underscores that using better technology, such as cameras, wireless data transmission and electronic recordkeeping, can bring a new level of transparency, accountability, sustainability and profitability to U.S. fisheries,” said Eric Schwaab, senior vice president, EDF Oceans. “To achieve that promise we must align economics, regulation and policy to jumpstart what has the potential to become a revolution in how we use fisheries data for the benefit of fishing communities and the oceans.”

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