Jim Ford runs 50-foot trawler Lisa Ann III from Newburyport, Massachusetts. Image: NOAA

Massachusetts commercial groundfish fisherman Jim Ford believes electronic monitoring could provide better and more complete data, according to NOAA Greater Atlantic Region port agent Bill Duffy.

Jim Ford has been fishing in the Gulf of Maine since he was in sixth grade. He worked up from deckhand to running his own gillnetter, doing sone trawling and longlining, and today runs the 50-foot trawler Lisa Ann III, targeting groundfish from his home port of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

In 2018, we issued an exempted fishing permit to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to create a pilot project to test electronic monitoring in the Northeast. Ford signed up as one of the first project participants, and currently uses electronic monitoring on 100% of his trips,’ Bill Duffy said.

Jim Ford shows Port Agent Bill Duffy the four screens that send video from each of the cameras on board Lisa Ann III. Image: NOAA

‘When I met Jim Ford on his boat on a foggy May morning, he showed me the equipment he uses. In the wheelhouse, there’s a monitor with a four-way split screen that shows him the feed from the four cameras on his boat. In order to record all of the catch coming onboard, two cameras are positioned above the trawl net off the back of his boat. Two are above the deck to give a bird’s eye perspective.

Lisa Ann III participates in the maximised retention programme. This means that Jim Ford is required to keep all of his groundfish catch, with a few exceptions, regardless of whether it is undersized or has no value. This provides complete catch information for scientists, since he brings in the fish he would normally have thrown back to sea.

‘As part of this programme, a dockside monitor meets Jim Ford at the dock to witness his offload, verify his catch information, and confirm that the fish hold is empty. He likes that cameras discourage people from trying to cheat the system, which creates a level playing field, and believes cameras could eventually meet monitoring requirements, reducing the need for human dockside monitoring,’ Bill Duffy commented.

When using EM, Jim Ford has his cameras turned on for the duration of his trip, which means that his catch is fully counted. If not using EM, groundfish vessels are required to carry observers on approximately 30 percent of all groundfish trips in 2019.

‘He likes that electronic monitoring gives him more privacy than carrying a human observer – there are no cameras in the wheelhouse or the cabin. When they’re not fishing, he and his crew are more relaxed. Having an extra person on board changes the dynamic on the boat,’ he explained.

‘I like the cameras because they show what’s out there. You can’t dispute what the camera sees,’ Jim Ford commented.
 For years, fishermen have been telling our scientists that there are more Atlantic cod than our surveys show and than our models predict. Jim Ford hopes that the footage of his catches will prove that the Atlantic cod stock is in better shape than we think.

‘Getting good quality data is key, because the fishery is on a downward spiral, especially inshore,’ he said. ‘NOAA should listen to fishermen more. And cameras don’t lie. The rest of the world uses electronic monitoring. New England is just getting up to speed.’