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Mote awarded $500,000 NOAA grant to electronically monitor fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico

Scientists at Mote Marine Laboratory recently received a grant for more than $500,000 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to continue advancing electronic monitoring of fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico.

In many fisheries, NOAA requires vessels to self-report data on what fish they catch and report using logbooks. Many vessels carry an observer onboard to record that data. Although this system has provided vital info in the past, logbooks don’t always provide the level of detail and consistent data that is ideal for fisheries management and it would not be financially affordable to have trained observers on all commercial fishing vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. Incorporating electronic monitoring, such as using video cameras that film the fish caught, will enhance the ability for more fisheries to document such data.

“It is important for fisheries sustainability to accurately document the fish that are caught as well as the accidental catch, called ‘bycatch,' that is discarded” said Carole Neidig, Mote staff scientist. “Electronic monitoring will help to document and provide a permanent record of the type and number of species caught, location of capture, the observed condition, and even sex (for adult sharks) of species discarded, which are key factors in managing fisheries sustainably.”

The Ocean Conservancy led the first study of electronic monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico in 2011 with Mote and other project partners to determine if using electronic monitoring tools could be effective for fisheries monitoring and management. That pilot study showed that electronic monitoring could be successfully applied aboard bottom longline and bandit (vertical line) vessels fishing for snapper and grouper, and study partners decided to shift leadership of the project to Mote, an ideal organization to interface with the fishers and NOAA alike. Additional initiatives with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Foundation (SFPF), the Environmental Defense Fund, and NOAA/NMFS have supported implementation of this new technology in the Gulf of Mexico.

The newest phase, thanks to this NOAA-funded grant, will launch in January 2017 when electronic monitoring equipment is installed on commercial longline vessels based in southwest and the panhandle of Florida, Louisiana and Texas. Scientists will provide each vessel with training and equipment, including 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 viewing and data analysis.