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Leverage Electronic Monitoring to Drive Healthy Fisheries

Posted by Sarah Freiermuth / TNC | California, United States

Fisheries provide food for 3 billion people and directly or indirectly employ over 10 percent of the world’s population. Despite our clear dependence on fisheries, the vast majority of the world’s wild-capture fisheries lack reliable data to inform and implement sustainable management. The result is an estimated economic loss of over $80 billion in benefits each year, declining fish populations, and degraded ocean ecosystems.

As our population and demand for seafood increase, so does the need for sustainable management. To improve data collection that can support better science and management and help enforce existing regulations, fisheries need to embrace technologies that are already transforming other industries. Electronic monitoring (EM)—the use of onboard video cameras, GPS, and sensors to automatically track catch and other critical data on fishing vessels—has the potential to be a global game changer by providing the robust and granular data necessary for sustainable and effective fisheries management.

EM is not new, but it is at a critical moment in its development. It has been nearly 20 years since the first trials of electronic monitoring (EM) in fisheries took place in British Columbia, yet the use of EM has grown slowly with only about 1,000 EM systems installed on fishing vessels worldwide. The tool has been held back by cost uncertainties, technological limitations, and legitimate policy and privacy concerns from regulators, fishermen, and the seafood industry.

However, in recent years, confidence in the tool has grown; the technology is improving, and fishery managers have greater experience with EM program design and implementation. Simultaneously, market and regulatory demands for transparency and accountability are ratcheting up.

Now is the time to double down on EM development and implementation, so that we can steer global fisheries toward a future of greater sustainability. Addressing EM’s challenges and building further confidence in the tool will drive rapid uptake in the coming years and provide valuable benefits to all stakeholders. We need to work globally, focusing on communicating the benefits of EM, identifying new opportunities for the technology, and breaking down the barriers that are slowing adoption.

To scale up EM, we must:

• Support EM cost reductions and technological advancements,
• Build broad demand for EM through national and regional commitments,
• Provide regulators with assistance for EM program design and implementation, and
• Build fishermen and industry support for EM and cultivate private-sector leadership on the tool’s uptake.

With increased focus on these priorities, EM can become a standard practice for high-value fisheries in strong governance regions around the world and gain a foothold in some of the more challenging but globally significant fishing regions (e.g., Indonesia, North Asia, S. Europe). This could amount to more than 25,000 vessels equipped with EM in the next decade helping to stamp out illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and delivering robust data and improved management to many of the world’s most important fisheries.

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