Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth have been awarded a patent for technology they say could reduce the costs of fishing vessel monitoring, a cost fisherman say threatens their livelihood, the school announced this week.
Dr. Brian Rothschild, the retired founding head of the UMass-Dartmouth School of Marine Science and Technology, and graduate student Glenn Chamberlain said their on-board 3D camera system would reduce costs, ensure accuracy and expand the scope of what information could be collected.
"Broad-based and accurate counting of the fish being caught is critical to our collective efforts to sustain critical fish stocks and thus the commercial fishing industry," Rothschild said in a statement. "We believe we have found a way to count the fish being caught in a relatively low-cost manner that will increase confidence among the federal regulators and the fishing industry."
The camera system, which would cost about $500 to install on a vessel, utilizes stereo photogrammetry, a system used by meteorologists to collect information about tornadoes, to capture images of fish either on the deck or passing through a net, according to the university. Those images could then be analyzed to produce "a permanent record of each sampling tow or catch in the fishery and to determine the species and size composition of each tow," the university said.
Last year, Hampton, New Hampshire, fisherman Dave Goethel and a fishing sector filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of a mandate requiring them to carry at-sea monitors on their vessels and pay the cost of hosting those federal enforcement contractors. The government shifted the cost of paying for monitors from itself to fishermen earlier this year.
Federal groundfish permit holders absorbed the costs of at-sea monitoring — estimated at an average of $710 per day per vessel — on March 1 after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it had exhausted the funds budgeted for that program.
NOAA said in mid June it would reimburse Northeast groundfishermen an estimated 85 percent of the 2016 sea days needed for at-sea monitoring for trips beginning on or after July 1, alleviating if only temporarily the burden of fishermen assuming the costs of the observer program.
Attorneys for the fishermen who filed the federal lawsuit filed in Concord, New Hampshire, said they will continue to fight the mandate.
The Northeast groundfish fleet included 735 active vessels and employed 2,039 crew members for the 2013 fishing year, according to the lawsuit, part of a larger seafood sector that supports an estimated 300,000 jobs along the East Coast.
Rothschild, 83, who has worked in fisheries for more than half a century, has been a critic of the way NOAA has gone about replacing the old effort control system based on days at sea with catch shares.
UMass-Dartmouth is currently "exploring avenues to develop the invention for use in the commercial fishing industry," the university said.
Material from Colin A. Young of the State House News Service was used in this story.