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A Message from Sam Rauch, Head of NOAA Fisheries

June 5, 2013 

Science At Sea 

Almost one year ago, I had the privilege of announcing a major milestone for our nation’s fisheries—annual catch limits to end overfishing of all federal fisheries under the Magnuson Stevens Act were in place in time for the 2012 fishing season. With that achievement came an increased need for more high-quality data to help us stay within those limits. Our data comes from many sources, but two critical sources of fishery-dependent data are observers and electronic monitoring.

Observers are highly trained, dedicated individuals who collect the most reliable, high-quality fishery-dependent data currently available to the agency. Fisheries observers benefit not just the agency and the regional fishery management councils, but fishermen as well: high-quality data means less uncertainty, which results in fishing closer to the annual catch limits without exceeding them. Observers face challenging and dangerous working conditions at sea, so deploying observers safely and collecting data at sea requires an active partnership between NOAA Fisheries, observers, observer providers, and the fishing industry. As you can imagine, increasing observer coverage requirements can be costly and difficult to fund, which is where electronic monitoring comes in.

The goal of electronic monitoring and reporting is not to replace observers, but rather to use all available tools and technologies to collect the highest quality data in the most cost-effective manner.  The term electronic monitoring is used broadly, indicating all means of collecting, recording, or reporting data both on shore and at sea. Technologies include electronic reporting of trip data by fishermen; catch, landings, and purchase data by dealers or processors; and electronic monitoring equipment such as video cameras that capture information on fishing location and catch. A number of fisheries have already integrated these types of technologies. Other technologies are still under development but show promise of being able to meet increasing data requirements in a growing number of fisheries.

To learn more about observers and electronic monitoring, we bring you two new feature stories:


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Samuel D. Rauch III
Acting Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries