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Mote Receives Grant to Bring Electronic Monitoring of Fisheries to Gulf

Archipelago Marine Research Ltd.

Mote Marine Laboratory announced it has received a $150,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to establish the first center for electronic monitoring of commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. Mote officials say it's a first step toward gathering more scientifically sound data to inform fisheries management in the entire Gulf.

The grant is one of 15 awarded this year from NFWF’s Fisheries Innovation Fund. Mote officials say it's being matched by private donations of funding and in-kind support, for a total of $271,435 that will be shared by Mote and project partners at the Ocean Conservancy, Archipelago Marine Research Ltd., Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance and East West Technical Services LLC.

The grant will allow Mote to work with commercial vessels to document their fishing activity with new electronic monitoring systems, which include digital video cameras, onboard computers, GPS and other technology.

Here's more information from Mote:

The new monitoring effort will focus on reef fisheries important to Gulf economies, particularly on improving information about bycatch — unintentional catch that may include protected, sensitive or young marine life not ready for harvest. Project partners hope to expand these efforts over the long-term to include electronic monitoring Gulf wide, with consistent data analysis based at Mote. The Gulf is home to 42 species of groupers, snappers, tilefish and other reef fishes, including many seafood species vital to Gulf economies and several considered by resource managers to be overfished or that are restricted or prohibited from being caught. To monitor fisheries harvests, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) requires commercial fishing vessels in the Gulf to self-report their fishing in logbooks. In addition, some vessels in the reef fishery may host federally certified observers who collect more detailed data about a vessel’s catch and bycatch. The current systems are vital, but logbooks cannot provide the level of detailed and consistent data that is ideal for fisheries management and it would not be financially affordable to have trained observers on all fishing vessels in the Gulf. In addition, it can be difficult or impossible for trained observers to document all bycatch before it is returned to sea, especially when multiple longlines are hauled in at once. “Electronic monitoring can help us address some of the greatest challenges in documenting Gulf fisheries, complementing monitoring efforts already in place,” said Dr. Ken Leber, associate vice president of the Directorate of Fisheries and Aquaculture at Mote. “For example, digital cameras can be placed in several spots at once and create a video record of the catch and bycatch, which scientists can later analyze in detail. This kind of data retrieval system is relatively inexpensive and it can be scaled up to suit monitoring needs throughout the Gulf.” The Ocean Conservancy led the first study of electronic monitoring in the Gulf in 2011 with Mote and the same project partners to find out if using these tools could be effective for fisheries monitoring and management. That study showed that electronic monitoring worked well aboard longline and bandit (vertical line) vessels fishing for snapper and grouper, and study partners decided to shift leadership of the project to Mote, an  independent marine research laboratory. "I am thrilled to continue this important work with Mote as they take the lead in developing and expanding electronic fishery monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Elizabeth Fetherston, Deputy Director of the Ocean Conservancy's Fish Conservation Program. “This is a cost-effective and industry-supported program, and Mote Marine Lab is the perfect entity to provide the essential link between fishery data collected at sea and the managers and scientists who use it." Mote scientists study economically important fish species in Florida and beyond, often working in close collaboration with recreational and commercial fishers. For example, Mote scientists have worked with about 220 bait and tackle shops and numerous anglers serving as “citizen scientists” to gather samples of tarpon DNA in a collaborative study with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission geared toward understanding the movements of this important sport fish. “Without the involvement of the fishing community, none of these studies would be possible,” said Carole Neidig, staff scientist at Mote. “What it boils down to is that, if we have the monitoring in place to support proper fishing practices, there’ll be more fish in the future.” The new phase of the study will launch this summer when new electronic monitoring equipment is installed on seven commercial longline vessels based in Southwest Florida. Scientists will provide each vessel with training and equipment, including up to four closed-circuit video cameras that will operate during fishing, gear sensors to detect fishing activity, a GPS to help detect where fish are caught and a monitor and computer control center with a portable hard drive that will later be returned to Mote for data analysis. This electronic monitoring technology was provided by project partner Archipelago Marine Research Ltd., which designs electronic monitoring systems and programs for fisheries, nongovernmental organizations, and industry regulators throughout North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific regions. According to Archipelago project manager Adam Batty, the EM Observe™ technology deployed on participating vessels has significantly improved the quantity and quality of fishing-activity data available for review. “With a reliable monitoring system in place, the next step is to develop the local data-management and review capacity for the Gulf,” said Batty. “Working closely with the fishers, our partners at Mote, and the full project team, we can help to create a solid foundation for a scalable, locally managed fisheries-monitoring program.” Results from the Gulf project will help resource managers document which fish species are being caught in particular locations, which species are caught as bycatch, and where and when fishing vessels encounter protected species. Results will be shared with participating fishers to support sustainable and responsible fishing practices. “By choosing to participate in this project, commercial vessels are helping gather new knowledge that ultimately benefits the reef fish as well as the fishing fleet — this kind of innovation and stewardship is important to us at The Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance,” said project partner Tj Tate, Executive Director of the Alliance, a nonprofit trade association whose goal is to support a sustainable and accountable reef fishing industry. “We look forward to continuing the important work of electronic monitoring and conservation efforts in the Gulf, and the leadership and partnership role of Mote assures us that the our monitoring will meet all project goals while bringing skill and management capabilities. We are honored to be a part of such groundbreaking work and such an exceptional team."

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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