NOAA has opened up electronic vessel trip reporting to all Northeast region fisheries, potentially offering a more efficient means for fishermen to submit trip information on catch, gear, discards, areas fished and a host of other details required by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The new guidelines, announced last week, also could bring more of the region’s groundfishermen into the electronic trip-reporting fold than have participated since that commercial fleet was the lone segment approved to use the technology more than two years ago.
“In the past year, about 70 (groundfish) boats have been set up to report electronically, meaning the software resides on computers onboard their vessels,” said Barry Clifford, NOAA fishery information specialist. “That accounts for about 3,000 reports that we received for this past fishing year. We’re hoping that it will be more widely adopted in the coming fishing year.”
Vito Giacalone, policy director for the Northeast Seafood Coalition, said many of the groundfishermen have shied away from using the NOAA system to electronically file their trip reports because the system and its accompanying technology seemed to be ever-shifting, and because it limited their electronic reporting to just groundfish.
“They kept moving the bar and changing things when what they needed to do was simplify things,” Giacalone, the coalition’s policy director, said of NOAA officials.
He said the system was particularly cumbersome for groundfishermen who are also permitted to fish other species, such as tuna, shrimp and lobster, not included in the 2-year-old approval for groundfish.
The result, he said, was that many groundfishermen in the Northeast region continued using the traditional paper forms for their vessel trip reports, based on detailed electronic information generated by the FishTrax electronic system the Northeast Seafood Coalition helped to develop.
“So, in that regard, this is good news that it’s authorized for every fishery now,” Giacalone said.
To participate in the electronic vessel trip reporting program, fishermen must use one of two software applications currently approved by NOAA: the FLDRS software available from the Northeast Fisheries Center and the FACTS software developed by the Canadian-based firm, Electric Edge Systems Group.
That could change down the road.
Clifford said additional software alternatives, such as FishTrax, could be incorporated into the electronic reporting program in the future.
“We don’t envision FLDRS or FACTS as being the only applications in the marketplace,” Clifford said. “We encourage the development of other applications. It’s an open ball game.”
Clifford said the new system should be faster and more convenient, as well as provide some cost savings to government regulators and the industry.
“This would replace the costs of the fishermen having to mail the paper forms to NMFS, and it reduces the amount of paper forms that NMFS has to first have printed, supplied to the industry and then have keypunched and entered into the data base,” Clifford said.
The required information would remain the same, including catch levels, vessel identification information, gear, trip dates, discard, dealers who ultimately buy the catch and the geographic location where the vessel fished.
Clifford said participating fishermen will be able to file the reports by email or by uploading the data through a website. Currently, that has to be done using a laptop or desktop computer system.
“However, we’re not limiting software developers to that,” Clifford said. “If they chose, they could develop smartphone apps.”
Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT