Accurate accounting for catch is crucial to effective management of any fishery. ALFA is committed to accurate accounting, but believes catch monitoring must be cost effective and appropriately scaled to meet program objectives and fleet capacity.  Small boats cannot safely accommodate an additional person, but most can support an electronic monitoring (EM) system.  ALFA has worked since 2010 to secure an EM alternative to observers for small fixed gear boats. 


Current Status

2012-2013 Data Logger Project



In 2010, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) approved an expanded observer program to prioritize observer coverage in specific fisheries. That gave the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) the green light to assign observers (through a random selection process) to halibut and groundfish vessels down to 40 feet in length. The restructured NMFS Observer Program, which went into effect in 2013, also taxes the fishing industry to pay for observer program costs.

Many vessels between 40 and 58 feet cannot accommodate an additional person without leaving behind a crewman or changing their fishing strategy. To ensure small boats had an alternative to observers, ALFA’s Fishery Conservation Network (FCN) designed a pilot program to develop an accurate, cost effective, EM deployment strategy for small longline vessels. With a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and in partnership with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, ALFA contracted with Archipelago Marine to install EM cameras on longline boats.

The goal of this pilot project and ongoing efforts to secure EM implementation are to provide longliners with the option of either EM or human observers to fulfill the at-sea monitoring requirements.

In 2011 and 2012, cameras were installed on six Sitka FCN members' boats and on six Homer vessels. The results were collected and analyzed to evaluate data quality and program costs.

The program showed that EM systems:

  • Are reliable and adaptable to a variety of vessel configurations.

  • Allow species level identification for 94% of fish on reviewed hauls.

  • Are cost effective: costs, including data analysis, were $198/sea day for Sitka vessels and $332/sea day for Homer vessels.

  • Offer substantial savings, when compared to the cost of human observers under the restructured Observer Program.

Download the full report: Electronic Monitoring of Alaska Halibut and Sablefish Quota Share Fisheries 

Current Status

In 2015 ALFA secured a second NFWF EM grant.  The objectives of this two-year project are to operationalize and fully implement EM in Alaska’s fixed gear fisheries.  Project partners again include the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, and Archipelago Marine Research.  The Council has identified 2016 as the target date for deploying EM systems in a way that will allow the data collected to be used in catch accounting.  Vessels carrying these EM systems in 2016 will receive a release from observer requirements.  The 2016 EM pool will include up to 50 vessels, and the target number of vessels for 2017 is higher.  Vessels owners interested in carrying EM should contact Liz Chilton at NOAA (  Please also let ALFA know of your interest so we can keep you up to date on progress (

An important step in making EM a success will be building industry consensus on the responsibilities assigned to vessels carrying EM systems.  Fishermen on the EM workgroup will use this input to negotiate the details of the 2016 deployment.  

Under the restructured observer program, the per day cost for observers has skyrocketed to over $1,000.  ALFA is currently seeking funding to develop monitoring cooperatives that streamline coverage and reduce costs.  If funding is secured, we will be looking for vessel owners willing to coordinate fishing schedules to share observer or EM deployments.  Stay tuned!

2012-2013 Data Logger Project

Fishery managers are increasingly interested in obtaining complete records of vessel position while fishing.  This information is used to validate assumptions of fishing effort and distribution for stock assessment purposes, ensure compliance with an increasingly complex regulatory environment, and inform the distribution of at-sea enforcement assets. The Vessel Monitoring System technology most often used to supply this information is very expensive, costing about $3,500 for hardware and installation and requiring data transfer fees of around $1,000/year in Alaska.

A Potential Solution

As the NPFMC considered extending VMS requirements to halibut and sablefish Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) vessels, ALFA began investigating advances in GPS technology and data storage that could offer a lower cost alternative to VMS.

Because monitoring the halibut/sablefish IFQ fisheries does not require real time data, data loggers have the potential to offer a cost-effective alternative. Such GPS data loggers are widely used to monitor location in many other industries, including the commercial trucking industry, and provide a continuous track of the transmitter’s location. They also cost approximately $500 to $1,000/unit when equipped with a weatherproof case, battery backup, and audible battery alarm. 


To evaluate the efficacy of using GPS data loggers as a lower cost alternative to VMS units, ALFA applied for and received a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to pilot test GPS data loggers under operational conditions in Alaska's IFQ sablefish and halibut fisheries.

GPS data loggers from four different manufacturers were deployed on commercial fishing vessels in Alaska for a total of 282 fishing days.  The project evaluated device performance related to management objectives and performance standards based on cost, logistical support needs, position accuracy, and reliability.  The ability to detect fishing events was also evaluated based on vessel speed, hydraulic activity, and polling interval. 

The project concluded that data loggers do have potential to gather needed at-sea data using a higher polling interval and at a lower cost than current VMS units.  Ancillary information on vessel speed, hydraulic activity and higher polling rates can aid in the detection of likely fishing events.  However, additional work under operational conditions needs to be done to improve the installation methods and reliability of these systems before they can be recommended.  This information has been shared with industry stakeholders and both state and federal agency staff involved with developing electronic monitoring technologies in Alaska.

To read the full report, click here.

For a recent story on ALFA's EM work from NOAA, click here. 

Click here to read a recent draft Analysis to Integrate Electronic Monitoring into the North Pacific Observer Program.

Click here to read the 2017 Electronic Monitoring Pre-Implementation Plan, an EM Workgroup Recommendation to council made in September 2016.