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Should Fishing Boats Use Monitoring Technology?

Nov 28 2017 Read 1845 Times

Environmentalists and campaigners have urged the UK fishing industry to force all of its fleet to equip their boats with electronic monitoring technology after Britain has left the EU. Citing the fact that an incredibly small percentage of fishing voyages are monitored at present, and highlighting the decreasing cost of the technology, concerned parties have urged the industry to use Brexit as a springboard to make the UK a leading light in sustainable fishing going forwards.

Monitoring key to compliance

Rigorous use of monitoring technology is not only instrumental in regulating water temperatures in fisheries and ensuring the conditions are optimal for the fish to flourish, but also to police fishermen working offshore. Obviously, adhering to the quotas imposed by the EU is essential to keeping fish stocks at a sustainable level, and there are fears that these are not being respected at present. With Brexit on the horizon, there is potential for the situation to deteriorate, as well.

Published in September 2017, a report from the WWF has championed the use of onboard monitoring equipment, including CCTV cameras, in helping to police the fishing industry. While the technology is already widely available, it’s currently used only sparingly.

According to Parliament, a mere 1% of English fishing voyages were subjected to onboard monitoring last year. While that figure was slightly higher in Scotland (3.7%), it represents a mere drop in the ocean and opens up the possibility for boats to underreport or misreport their catches, thus potentially leading to illegal hauls.

Resistance from fishermen

While the quotas are set up to ensure the longevity of the fishing industry and protect fishermen’s interest in the long-term, they are often thought of as obstructing business in the short-term. The WWF report found that fishermen had hampered efforts by independent parties to monitor fishing catches on a multitude of occasions.

In the more severe examples, this involved intimidation and threatening of inspectors and damaging monitoring equipment. One observer confessed to the WWF that “ I was threatened with violence ashore by one of the crew because losing the contract was going to cost the vessel and the crew lots of money.”

Without the use of such equipment, the only methods for verifying catch hauls currently available are unreliable satellite imaging, the occasional physical check onshore and a dependence on the integrity of the vessels’ reporting.

A time to take the initiative

It’s not the first time that technology has been used to monitor illegal and unsustainable methods of fishing; last year, breakthrough technology put the brakes on illegal blast fishing off the coast of Malaysia. With Britain on the verge of leaving the EU, the time is ripe for it to implement its own monitoring network on an industry-wide scale and provide an example to the world.

According to the WWF, installing such recording technology on the entirety of the British fishing fleet and reviewing at least 10% of that footage would entail costs of around £5 million, which is far cheaper than traditional monitoring systems. It would, in theory, work out to under £5,000 per year for every vessel larger than 10m in length, including operational costs and salaries.

“As the UK prepares to leave the EU, we must take the opportunity to become a world leader in sustainable fishing,” explained Helen McLachlan, the WWF fisheries programme manager. “At the moment, we simply do not know enough about what’s happening on our fishing boats or how many fish are being taken out of our seas, and that’s putting jobs, fish stocks and the UK’s precious seas at risk.”

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