Starting next year, cameras can be used  instead of a humans to track what’s coming and going over the boat rails.   Sign up starts September 1 for the new electronic monitoring program  for halibut longliners and pot boats between 40 and 60 feet. The chance to get some extra bunk space back is a big relief for the fleet.

“It’s been a long time coming. A lot of the boats in Alaska need an option to use EM to meet their at sea monitoring needs because taking a human observer is simply not practical for those boats. So I was glad to see we finally got it on the books.” 

Dan Falvey is program director for the Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA).

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Boats with ALFA and the Homer-based North Pacific Fisherman’s Association tested the EM program for several years as part of the ‘pre-implementation phase.’ The camera system proved it could track and identify over 95 percent of species required for fishery management decisions. Over 70 boats are in the longline pool, Falvey says, and18 boats are using EM with pot gear.

“ The council has approved growing the EM pool to 120 longline and 45 pot boats over the next few years so it will be an opportunity so it will be an opportunity for boats who don’t have a system now but are interested to register and join the pool.”

Falvey says the EM systems are reliable and user friendly.

“ The systems are just like any other piece of marine electronics on a boat. They start up and the skippers do a small functions test to make sure it’s working properly. If the system passes that test, the vessel is free to go out and fish. And if the system leaves town working and they have problems on the water they don’t have to end their trip. That is a really important part of the program.”

Another point: the systems are on only when you’re fishing.

“For the fixed gear vessels the systems turn on when your hydraulics activate and you start to haul back. The camera is rolling continuously while you’re hauling and for a couple hours after you’re done to watch the sorting on deck and then they turn off until the next time you turn on your hydraulics.”

 After a fishing trip, the skipper mails the EM hard drive to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission for review.

The camera systems come at no charge to Alaska boat thanks to a jump start from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“We’ve had Start up funds to help offset the intital cost of buying the hardware and installing it so we’ve been fortunate that the EM systems are provided to the boats at no cost..” 

The EM systems also are covered by a 1.25 fee Alaska fishermen pay as part of the observer program.

All boats planning to participate in EM  next year must register with the Observer Declare and Deploy System (ODD). Sign up starts in September through November 1.