A Catch Quota Project in England is tracking “total catch” at sea to help support responsible resource management within commercial fisheries. Rather than just counting the fish that make it to the dock, the Catch Quota Project equips each vessel with an electronic monitoring system to accurately account for all catch—including fish discarded at sea—and help fishermen verify quotas, eliminate waste, and encourage selective fishing practices.

Based in Newcastle, England, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) promotes sustainable development and responsible resource management throughout England’s fishing fleets. As part of a portfolio that spans marine licensing and planning, fisheries management, and marine environmental protection, the MMO also carries out the enforcement of EU and national fisheries regulations.

To help fisheries comply with reforms to the European Union (EU) Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the MMO has been tasked with trialling electronic monitoring systems by the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Monitoring fishing activity with cameras, sensors, and software

Although traditional monitoring methods such as onboard observers have proven effective for tasks such as biological sampling, large-scale observer programs can become prohibitively costly, and present significant challenges; for example, on large vessels where multiple areas must be monitored simultaneously; on smaller vessels where space and resources are inadequate to host an extra person; or in remote regions where the requirement to coordinate observer connections from port to port can result in costly delays, associated travel costs, and reduced fishing times.

For this application, the MMO was tasked with trialling a scalable monitoring alternative that could be applied as an effective monitoring tool to appropriate parts of the fleet, and enable the fishermen to do their job with as little interference as possible. EM is therefore being considered as one of a range of possible tools to ensure sufficient accountability in fisheries in the context of CFP reform.

In 2010, the UK’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Sciences (CEFAS) initiated a program to explore electronic monitoring (EM) alternatives, and in April 2011, Defra transferred this over to MMO for further development and implementation. As the next step, the MMO formed a Marine Trials team led by Julian Roberts along with the two senior members of the original CEFAS project: Grant Course and Guy Pasco.

For its initial at-sea trials, the team worked with Archipelago to equip participating vessels with a CCTV-based electronic monitoring system. As Western Canada’s largest and longest-running observer-services company, Archipelago had developed and delivered both observer programs and electronic monitoring alternatives for many years, and most recently, had worked extensively with CEFAS on its earlier EM initiative. Working closely with the MMO, Archipelago equipped a dozen trawlers and gillnetters (later expanded to 19 vessels) with EM Observe™ electronic monitoring systems.

Each EM system collected data through an array of components: four CCTV cameras to record colour video imagery (with no sound); a hydraulic pressure sensor to detect equipment activity; a drum-rotation sensor to identify sets and hauls; and a GPS receiver to determine course, speed, and fishing locations. All equipment was managed, and data recorded, by a control centre installed in the wheelhouse.

The control centre also included a display screen to provide wheelhouse crew with system status updates and real-time views of fishing activity on deck from each of the four cameras.

When each vessel returned to port, the portable hard drive was removed from the unit, and its data retrieved and sent for review along with an activity log provided by the skipper.

Reviewing video, sensor, and mapping data

In reviewing the data, the primary goal was to determine the quantities of retained fish, undersized retained fish, and discards; however, this would be no easy task. A typical fishing trip can produce week’s worth of data records from every sensor, camera, and component in the system, much of which requires little or no examination. To help reviewers navigate through the “noise” and quickly get to the information they needed, MMO used the Archipelago® EM Interpret™ data analysis and reporting software.

EM Interpret integrates all video, sensor, and mapping data, and displays it along a common timeline. Fishing activities (such as sets and hauls) appear on both the map and the timeline; and clicking on either will instantly display the associated records, data entries, and video for that event.

During the MMO trial, approximately 10% of fishing activity was randomly selected for review. This was determined sufficient to verify logbooks, and support fishing records describing the landed catch. If a vessel’s logbook did not match the data (for example, counts from the video footage), a closer review of fishing activity for that vessel would be possible.

Reducing discards through selective fishing

Throughout the trial, participants received an increase in quota equivalent to three quarters of the amount typically discarded in these fisheries. The Catch Quota Project requires fishermen to land all fish caught of a particular species (for example, North Sea cod), and these are counted against their quota, even if they are damaged or undersized. Fishermen are given extra quota to participate—equivalent to 75% of the discard rate—and once the entire quota is caught they must stop fishing.

The discard rate was immediately reduced by 25%, and the additional quota encouraged participants to fish more selectively to maximise their profits. In acknowledgement of the increased effort required to fish selectively, additional effort allocations awarded fishermen extra time, in terms of days at sea, to allow crews the flexibility they needed to fish to quota while carefully avoiding undersized and juvenile fish.

Ensuring data quality in a challenging environment

Although an automated monitoring system is designed to operate reliably with little maintenance, there are a few basic requirements; for example, the vessel should provide a consistent source of relatively clean power. As with any computer system, significant power fluctuations or interruptions can result in a loss of data (and the associated records for that period). Although it may occasionally be shut down if needed, the control centre is designed to remain powered on throughout the trip, so it can log progress, and start and stop recording as needed.

Routine inspections can also help to prevent data gaps; for example, a damaged equipment sensor should be replaced promptly, and camera lenses should be kept clean to prevent vapour or condensation from obscuring video views. Image quality can be checked from the wheelhouse to ensure a camera is clean, adjusted, and functioning properly. The EM Observe system also operates its own diagnostic check and reporting function to indicate if any component needs attention.

During the first year, fishermen were required to keep complete records to help assess the program and evaluate the effectiveness of the electronic monitoring system. In response to feedback that the manual reporting requirements were too time-consuming, the amount of paperwork required was reduced. As the program continues, the automated monitoring system may help to reduce the amount of paperwork further, so that fishermen can concentrate on doing their jobs with minimal interruptions or clerical tasks. The next step is to reduce the amount of time between reviewers receiving the data from the vessel, and providing useful and timely feedback to the vessel skipper and owner.

Reviewing the outcome

When the concept of cameras on boats was introduced by CEFAS in 2010, it was met with initial opposition from potential participants; however, a follow up series of meetings and discussions helped to clarify program expectations, address concerns, and outline the incentives and practical advantages.

Since the initiative started in 2011, discards of catch quota stocks (including cod, sole, plaice, anglerfish, megrim, and hake) have been virtually eliminated; reduced to just 0.3% across all species[i]. Fishermen’s logbooks—verified by electronic monitoring data—confirm that participating fishermen are fishing more selectively, and landing all that they catch.

In addition to reduced discards, additional benefits, including health and safety advantages, have emerged. Skippers and wheelhouse crew have reported that they appreciate having video views of deck activities during busy times, and in one case, a fishing vessel that had collided with a beam trawler was able to use video footage of the event to help settle an insurance claim.

Planning for the future

As of 2013, the Marine Management Organisation’s Catch Quota Project accommodates 22 fishing vessels. Trials may be expanded to accommodate more species and other fisheries, although until the amount of available quota is announced each year, organizers cannot conclusively know how many vessels can participate in the coming season, or how soon new participants can get started within the program.

Aside from the annual scheduling challenges, plans are underway to further develop and refine the methodologies for collecting and analyzing fishing activity data. With the technology proven, and participants comfortable within the guidelines and expectations of the program, the Marine Trials team will continue to work closely with the fishermen to determine how these measures can improve selectivity and reduce discards. The project team will also continue to collect information to determine the impact of discard bans on industry and regulators, and explore the long-term results on fish stocks and industry viability.

Based on the promising results of the program to date, the Marine Management Organisation is committed to expanding and refining the Catch Quota Project, so when the Common Fisheries Policy reform and discard bans are implemented within the next few years, English fishing fleets will be prepared to embrace policy changes, and the option of electronic monitoring will have been thoroughly tested.

[i] For more information on the Marine Management Organization’s Catch Quota Project, see the Catch Quota Trial Final Report (pdf).