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Fishing in a Digital Age

Oct 2, 2015
2015 Issue 2

Modern day fishing vessels can be equipped with a wide range of electronics, some required and some voluntary. Keeping pace with new technology and weighing the benefits and challenges of paper versus electronic systems can be difficult in this increasingly digital age. 

Some benefits of electronic fishing technologies include increased efficiency in data entry, analysis, and return, less room for transcription errors, potential money savings in the short- and long-term, and systems that are integrated, more streamlined and less redundant. The growing focus on seafood traceability is also driving the need for more timely electronic data, so that fish can be tracked through the supply chain.

On the flip side, there are many challenges to going electronic: from human dimensions, such as resistance to change, privacy concerns, computer literacy, and technical issues, to legal and logistical considerations, such as meeting federal requirements, upfront capital costs, availability of wi-fi at the docks, and potential ongoing transmission costs and training time.

GMRI is one of several organizations in New England testing and installing electronic technologies on fishing vessels. GMRI has been partnering with NOAA since 2010 to install electronic Vessel Trip Reporting (eVTR) software on vessels for free (including the laptops), though uptake has been slow. For the last three years, GMRI, The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association (MCFA), and Ecotrust Canada have been working with groundfish sector vessels on a pre-implementation project on electronic monitoring (EM). This project has recently integrated eVTR software (eLog) into the EM system.

GMRI also has a new traceability project with MCFA, Trace Register, ThisFish, and Hannaford that seeks to seamlessly integrate data systems from vessels to the point of sale. The project includes marketing that will provide consumers with vessel-level information about where the product was harvested and by whom.

For their part, NMFS is designing an integrated data system through their Fisheries Dependent Data Collections (FDDC) Modernization Project. GMRI collaborated with NMFS during the early stages of the project in 2013 and 2014 by interviewing members of the fishing industry, and convening a workshop. In 2015 and 2016, we will continue this collaboration through addressing other project needs.

Increased electronic data collection, transmission, storage and dissemination are here and growing, for both individual systems and collectively. New technologies have the potential to address a myriad of challenges facing fisheries, locally and globally. However, there are many technical and human challenges to developing and adopting these technologies. Sufficient training, outreach, financial support, and industry involvement should ease the transition from paper to electronic systems, though it may not overcome all the aforementioned challenges.

We are looking for people to get involved to help develop and test these systems. If you are interested in an eVTR system, please contact Aaron Whitman at If you are interested in EM, please contact Mark Hager at If you are interested in the traceability project, please contact Jen Levin at