Perhaps the most controversial presentation at the 24th annual Fisherman and Scientists Research Society Conference was by Amanda Barney (at podium), Eco-Trust Canada, and Chelsey Karbowski, Ecology Action Centre, on the potential benefits of electronic video monitoring. Many fishers question whether EVM will work or be cost effective in the Atlantic Canadian context.

Electronic video coverage as a possible alternative to traditional at-sea observer coverage is on the radar of fishers in Atlantic Canada.

The possibility was brought to the table last spring at a workshop co-hosted by the Ecology Action Centre (EAC), Ecotrust Canada, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) and DFO. More than 80 industry stakeholders attended the workshop, organized to introduce electronic and video monitoring technology and support open dialogue and discussions on the potential for implementation in Atlantic Canadian fisheries.

A report on the workshop, “Getting Up to Speed – Potential Application for Video Monitoring in Atlantic Canada” is available online through the EAC.

Since then, video monitoring has been a topic for discussion for many fishers.

“We talked about it when we met last week,” says Eugene O’Leary, president of the Guysborough County Inshore Fishermen’s Association. “Fishermen in our association are leery of it. You’ve got to be careful of big brother.”

O’Leary says fishers have concerns on several fronts, including confidentiality. O’Leary says fishers aren’t convinced it’s a cost-effective alternative.

“One thing about video monitoring, if the camera doesn’t work you don’t leave the wharf,” O’Leary says.

At sea video monitoring is “probably the wave of the future for that type of monitoring,” says Gordon Beaton, president of Local 4 of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, adding while fishers have some obvious trepidations, “I don’t think there is a large push back at it.”

With video monitoring, it would be possible to cover a lot more vessels at sea than with actual persons on onboard, Beaton says, but on the flip side cameras can’t collect samples and conduct the tests observers do.

Video monitoring is something that was adopted in some west coast fisheries for about 10 years now, as part of integrated fisheries management plans for groundfish and crab fleets, with positive conservation results, says Susanna Fuller, Ph. D, a marine conservation coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre.

“In B.C. one of the additional benefits fishermen didn’t anticipate was being able to prove existing fishing grounds when B.C. ferries wanted to change a route because they had the data,” Fuller says, noting such data “could be useful (in Atlantic Canada) as we get increased use of our ocean environment,” such as a Maritime link to New England.

When it comes to observer coverage in Atlantic Canada, one issue facing some fleets is the ability to carry an observer on deck due to limited space, Fuller says.

“In some cases, you can’t get an observer on deck,” she says. “Video monitoring should be seen as an additional tool.”

Fuller says the main lesson coming out of the workshop is video monitoring “might work, but it has to be fishery-led.”

Video monitoring was used in the tuna charter fleet in the Gulf last year with positive results, Fuller says. There’s also some consideration being given to using the technology in the offshore halibut fleet and plans for a pilot project this summer in southwestern Nova Scotia.