case study

Monitoring the Area A crab fishery

The Area ‘A’ crab fishery involved a fleet of about 50 vessels fishing for Dungeness crab in northern British Columbia. A monitoring program was developed to monitor vessel trap limits and to help control theft of catch and gear.


The Area ‘A’ crab fishery employed a fleet of about 50 vessels fishing for Dungeness crab in northern British Columbia. During the 1990s, the crab fishery intensified in terms of catch, the number of vessels involved and amount of trap gear deployed. Escalation of the fishery resulted in a dramatic increase in fishing effort with more than 50,000 traps being deployed.

Along with the increased fishing effort came an intensified level of conflict among fishery participants. With gear concentration high, concern arose that fishers were removing catch from each others’ traps or cutting lines that were tangled with their own gear. Also, suspicions arose that that some fishers were simply hauling others’ gear without deploying any of their own. Fishers estimated that some were losing as much as CDN $100,000 a year from these illegal activities.

Area A CrabIn the 2000 fishery year, fisheries authorities implemented a trap limit program designed to reduce the total gear in the fishery to below 36,000 traps. The program designated allocations by vessel, with limits of 600 to 1,200 traps assigned depending upon vessel size. A monitoring program was developed to monitor vessel trap limits, and to control catch and gear theft. Archipelago worked with the Area ‘A’ Crab Association to develop a monitoring program that was both affordable and effective.

The fishery adopted an automated approach using a custom designed electronic monitoring (EM) system developed by Archipelago. All vessels in the fishery were equipped with an EM system that automatically logged various data during all fishing trips. Digital video technology surpassed its tape-based predecessor, allowing for higher image storage capacity and the ability to directly access specific imagery. A GPS receiver ensured pinpoint accuracy (in a fishery where distances of a few meters could be critical), and a hydraulic pressure transducer helped identify all activity conducted by a vessel’s winches; oscillations in hydraulic pressure corresponded to trap hauling, making it easily detected in the data record.

Area A CrabThe requirement to individually identify the fishery’s 36,000 traps initially presented a technical challenge. After initial frustrations with bar-code tags and readers, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology was adopted and soon proved the only way to accomplish trap identification given the large number of traps, the fast pace of trap hauling and setting operations, and the wet, dirty conditions of the fishing deck. Each vessel marked their crab traps by inserting pre-assigned RFID read only tags into trap buoys. The buoy was passed over a scanner while the trap was hauled, providing a simple and efficient means to identify the trap. The identity of traps was checked against the inventory to identify the owner. If a violation was observed, the video clip and associated data was archived and reported.

After about fifteen days of fishing activity, the EM system was serviced and the data retrieved for analysis. The analysis was focused on making an objective assessment of whether the vessel complied with fishing regulations. The EM data set provided a very powerful analytical tool because of the large volume and the interrelated information. Data from the GPS, RFID tags, and hydraulic sensor was examined with database and GIS software to spot anomalous events, such as failure to scan traps. In such cases, the video imagery associated with the event was observed. Reports from the data analysis alerted fisheries authorities and the Area A Crab Association to compliance issues in their fishery. Also, routine reports to fishers following analysis of sampled data helped to outline any issues identified and provide positive feedback for good compliance.

Of equal importance to the design and operation of the EM systems were the rules that governed its use. The monitoring service was provided through the Area A Crab Association with strict requirements to ensure fishers complied with the rules. Fishers were instructeArea A Crabd to keep the EM system unit continuously powered during the fishing trip, not interfere with any of the sensors, and scan all traps when hauled. Failure to meet these requirements could result in fines being levied by fisheries authorities, or other penalties levied by the Association. Repeated violations could result in suspension of monitoring services, effectively causing fishing operations to cease until other monitoring arrangements could be made. Undoubtedly, monitoring costs for these displaced fishers would be very high.

After the first three years of operation, support for the Area A Crab fishery monitoring program was very high. License holders balloted in December 2002 overwhelmingly supported a continued requirement for electronic monitoring in their fishery. Including the capital cost of the equipment and subsequent annual program expenses, the average annual cost for the monitoring service was about $10 CDN per trap, or less than 20% the cost of an at-sea observer program.

The program was entirely funded by the fishing industry and there was widespread feeling that the system provided a significant deterrent, creating an unprecedented degree of order and co-operation in the fishery. Some fishermen felt that the equipment paid for itself in the first season through higher catch rates and lower gear loss. The fishery also changed because, for the first time, there was a sense of fairness in that all fishery participants were respecting the rules and being treated equally.

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