Cameras to be Used for Monitoring New England Groundfish Fishery for the First Time

The use of cameras is intended to provide an accurate and cost-effective alternative for fisheries monitoring in New England.

HARWICH, MA | May 26, 2016

June 1 marks the beginning of a new era for fisheries monitoring in New England. This year, for the first time, up to 20 participating fishermen from Massachusetts, Maine and potentially elsewhere in New England, will use digital cameras rather than human monitors to document discards of groundfish, such as cod, haddock and flounder, on commercial fishing trips.

This collaborative project currently includes groundfishermen from the Maine Coast Community Sector, Cape Cod’s Fixed Gear Sector and others, with technical support from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and project oversight by The Nature Conservancy. The goal is to use innovative technology to provide accurate catch and discard information in a cost-effective manner. (Photos and captions of camera installation in Saquatucket Harbor, Harwich, Mass., are available at; photos © Lauren Owens. Maine installation photos, © Heather Perry, are available here:

With quotas for some groundfish species, particularly cod, at historic lows, the importance of accurate fishing information has never been greater, and the profit margin for fishermen has never been smaller.

“Electronic monitoring is the only realistic solution for the small-boat fishery,” says Eric Hesse, captain of the Tenacious II, of West Barnstable, Mass. “Even if some fishermen have managed to scrape together enough daily revenue to cover the cost of human observers, it won’t take much to undo that balance. More importantly, it is a responsible step toward owning one’s impact on the resource and the fishery, and as quota holders, we owe it to ourselves to minimize bycatch and fish sustainably.”

Issues of cost and the need for better information have been at the forefront of recent discussions about fisheries monitoring. This program is coming at a time when costs for at-sea monitoring have transitioned from the government to New England’s groundfish fleet, and fishermen are looking for more affordable ways to meet federal monitoring requirements.

Electronic video monitoring systems use three to four cameras to capture all the fish handling activity on deck, with some cameras focused on dedicated points so that fish can be identified and measured before being discarded. Upon completion of the trip, fishermen send the hard drives to third-party reviewers who watch the footage and quantify the amount of discarded fish, allowing regulators to use the information for catch accounting. Fishermen on both the East and West coasts are testing and deploying video monitoring systems on their vessels in an effort to supply better catch data for fisheries management and to save money in the long-term.

“Our goal is to develop electronic monitoring into an accepted, accurate, and cost-effective alternative for those fishermen who choose to use it,” says Chris McGuire, marine program director, The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts and the project’s manager. “The Conservancy’s project team has been working closely with fishermen, regulators and scientists to co-develop the details of this electronic monitoring program, and we’re really pleased to have reached this point.”

Costs for equipment purchases and video review during the 2016 fishing season are being offset by federal funds through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and other sources.


Mike Russo, captain of the f/v Gulf Venture, of Provincetown, Mass.: “Cameras on boats will make a big difference for two reasons. One, you won’t have an inexperienced person onboard, which is a liability and a safety risk, and two, pictures don’t lie: Video footage will validate fishermen’s observations, which up until now have been categorized as anecdotal. Now, the proof will be there.”

Troy Bichrest, fisherman, Cundy’s Harbor, Maine: “Using the electronic monitoring system really didn't add too much extra work to our fishing day, and I think it is something that fishermen will get behind if it can give us a safer alternative to taking human observers on our boats.”

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Contact information

James Miller
The Nature Conservancy

Nancy Civetta
Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance

Ben Martens
Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association

Elijah Miller
Gulf of Maine Research Institute


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