Affordable electronic monitoring for small-scale fishing vessels

Ships in Indonesia

When you sit down for a seafood dinner, there’s a 50-50 chance that a small-scale fishing vessel caught your meal. That’s good news for the coastal communities relying on seafood sales to support livelihoods. But data on small-scale fisheries aren’t as robust as the information known about large, commercial catches. A major factor is the cost of having people on board to monitor fishing practices, which is why WWF set out to find an affordable way to improve reporting for all fishing vessels.

Getting good data is costly
Obtaining data on catches in both small scale and commercial scale fisheries has traditionally relied on people to observe fishing practices on vessels. Unfortunately observer programs are expensive for developing countries, and placing observers onboard is logistically difficult—the vessels are often too small to accommodate observers.

To help supplement observer coverage in larger scale fisheries a variety of video based electronic monitoring systems have been developed. But these have primarily been used for industrial scale and economically important fisheries, and with the systems starting at a cost of around $15,000, it puts them out of reach of most governments looking to collect any data on small scale fisheries.

High-quality data on a low budget
WWF is collaborating with the US government and a company called Flywire to develop a low cost electronic monitoring system that is able to collect high quality data at less than a tenth of the cost of existing systems used by the commercial fishing fleet.

The system can record high definition video, is linked to a GPS, can have either an independent battery or solar charging system, and has a separate video monitor. Altogether it has the potential to provide quality data in situations where there is currently no data collection involving catch composition and bycatch.

Testing in the field
The results, so far, are positive. Successful trials in Mexico and Indonesia opened the door to testing in Hawaii, California, and North Carolina. On-site training improves the effectiveness. In the North Carolina fishery, WWF completed 40 trials with a 100% success rate after training.   

When we compared the data collected by a traditional observer against the data obtained by analysis of the recorded video, the results are even more positive. Our system compares very favorably in quality and can be produced in half the time it takes a traditional observer. 

As testing and fine-tuning the software continues, one thing is clear: this system can provide an affordable option for fisheries managers in developing countries, as well as for fishermen in the US who are being mandated to provide electronic monitoring.