A pair of bills makes electronic monitoring of state-regulated fisheries possible

A pair of bills makes electronic monitoring of state-regulated fisheries possible

Gov. Mike Dunleavy introduced a pair of bills last month that would allow electronic monitoring on board commercial fishing vessels in state fisheries. This electronic monitoring can be used in place of mandatory monitors on board fishing vessels. But some in the fishing industry question why this is necessary, since only a small number of state-managed fisheries require on-board monitoring.

Nils Ivins is a longline and gillnetter and executive director of the Petersburg Shipowners Association. He says he’s not sure what the bills are for.

“Because it’s too broad, and because we don’t understand what it’s really trying to get at, we don’t support it,” he said.

The two bills — Senate Bill 209 and House Bill 294 — stem from a discussion at a Board of Fisheries meeting last year. The council has been trying to figure out how to enforce regulations that require Zone M fishermen to keep chum salmon, instead of turning them back in favor of the more valuable king salmon. Region M is located along the Alaska and Eastern Aleutian Peninsulas. It’s intercepting some salmon heading to western Alaska.

Often fisheries enforcement relies on monitoring programs – where people go out on boats to report the actions of fishermen. But boats are often small, and it can be difficult to find room for an extra person. When the council considered the possibility of monitoring state fisheries electronically, they found they would need to change the law to allow it.

The bills would give the state Board of Fisheries the authority to require electronic monitoring in any state-managed fishery. According to a letter attached to the bills, examples of electronic monitoring could include video cameras and equipment sensors that would capture information about fishing locations and catches.

Creating a statewide bill to fix a very specific problem is overkill, Ivins said.

“I think the worst fear is that it will be used to implement complete modern electronic monitoring of all vessels and all waters statewide, because that is what it will ultimately allow, because it is so broad and its reach,” he said.

Fishermen must pay to have spotters on their boats. They will also have to pay for the installation and maintenance of electronic monitoring equipment.

The Aleutians East Borough is home to many fishermen in District M. Last year, the borough sent a letter to the fish board opposing electronic monitoring of state fisheries. They estimated the cost of installing monitoring devices at $17,000 per boat, in addition to another five thousand dollars annually for maintenance. That’s the same price as setting up and maintaining cameras for federal fisheries that require monitoring, such as halibut, according to Devrin Bennett of Homeport Electronics in Petersburg.

Don Spigelmyre is the Southeast Fleet Manager for OBI Seafoods. He said he’s concerned about the cost to fishermen.

“With prices in commercial fisheries declining, in the last two years in particular, I am concerned that further additional costs are being added to fishermen who are now barely surviving, could push them to the brink financially,” he said.

If the bills become law, the state Department of Fish and Game would administer the electronic monitoring program. Commissioner Doug Vincent Lange would have the legal authority to implement it. The cost to anglers is one consideration the fish board takes into account when deciding whether or not to monitor a particular fishery, he said. Just because electronic monitoring is available doesn’t mean it will be used, he said.

“This bill simply adds to the toolkit available to the Board of Fisheries to consider when they want to have some type of commercial fishery monitoring system and electronic monitoring, as well as the opportunity to have a monitor program,” he said.

Currently, only a few state-run commercial fisheries have mandatory monitoring programs – for scallops and some crabs. With electronic monitoring as an option, it’s possible the fish board might decide to monitor more fisheries, Vincent Lange said.

“I think the fisherman would prefer electronic monitoring rather than the option of having to put a monitor on his boat,” he said.

In a letter accompanying the bill, the State Department said the state would not bear any costs associated with the legislation, but funding would likely be needed to implement the program. The Ministry will request this funding through the budget.

Candidates for the Board of Fish Management are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Alaska Legislature.

A hearing for SB 209 will be held on Wednesday, February 7, at 1:30 PM Alaska time.

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