Homer group receives grant for electronic monitoring

Homer-based North Pacific Fisheries Association has received a $147,400 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Fisheries Innovation Fund grant for a two-year project to use electronic monitoring in the pot and longline cod fisheries. 

National Marine Fisheries Ser-vice is providing another $120,000 in matching funds.

NPFA president Buck Laukitis said the focus would be on the small boat cod fleet. The grant was awarded while NPFA was wrapping up a similar grant project for smaller halibut boats.

Laukitis expressed optimism the technology would work for everyone working with pots, including crabbers, who currently are required to take live observers on board for a portion of their season at considerable expense.

Laukitis said NPFA applied for the grant believing the technology to be a good fit for the fisheries, especially boats working with pots because everything gets dumped onto a sorting table where a camera could capture what happens.

“It’s easy,” he said. “You can see everything that comes on the table.”

Laukitis noted NPFA is not trying to pile on additional requirements for fishermen, but is trying to come up with a “common-sense, cost-effective approach” to collecting the data that NMFS is seeking under the restructured observer program. 

Identifying what data NMFS is actually seeking is an ongoing frustration for the small boat longline fleet that has recently been drawn into the observer program. 

“If you want the moon, only with a human observer do you get the moon,” Laukitis said. “But if you say ‘we can get this, this and this well with cameras,’ and then fill in the blanks by extrapolating from human observers on other boats, then that’s something we can work with.”

He added that there are lots of stories of human observers who are sick in their bunk, or do not show up on planes, or other failings. He said there are trade-offs with both systems, but between the observers and electronic monitoring, the data needs should be able to be met.

As a result of the previous two-year grant that NPFA received for developing a system for halibut longliners, NPFA is on its third generation of cameras for this project.

The first generation of cameras was entirely too complicated, Laukitis said.

“There were routers, and boxes that no one knew what to do with, and connectors,” he said, and spending hours on the phone with tech support in the middle of a fishing trip was not practical. 

Not only that, but “it did not work,” he said. “(The boat) left the dock, and it simply did not work. It’s that whole new level of marine environment.”

Laukitis stressed that whatever system NPFA ends up with has to be easy to set up and operate, even for people with limited technical skills, and adaptable to small boats, many of which do not have 110 volt electrical systems, which was required for previous generations of the cameras.

The best way to get a user-friendly unit is to involve the user, he said.

“In my mind, we want fishermen developing it, not an agency telling us ‘this is the way it’s going to be, and you’re just going to have to deal with it.’” 

He gave the example of the choice between having to tap into the hydraulics system to install a switch that turns the camera on when gear is being hauled, or having a proximity switch next to the reel that turns the camera on whenever the reel is turning.

“That’s a lot different,” he said. “It serves the same function, but it’s a lot less intimidating for someone than to have to open up their hydraulics to install this other sensor or valve or whatever.”

Laukitis said that NPFA has been trying to be proactive in pursuit of a workable system, rather than waiting for NMFS to come up with one, which could be years down the line and might not be something fishermen can work with easily.

“They’re still at the stage of writing academic papers,” he said. “We’re trying to be leaders.”

NPFA will be looking for a project coordinator to administer the grant. The cameras will be mounted on volunteer boats for the “B” cod season which begins September 1.

The Cordova Times reports that more than 1.8 million people have asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration not to approve genetically engineered salmon for human consumption in the United States, according to the Center for Food Safety.

The effort was driven by a broad coalition organized over three years ago by the Center for Food Safety and consisting of public interest consumer, environmental and animal protection groups, in addition to commercial and recreational fisheries associations, food businesses and retailers.

“It is extremely disappointing that the Obama administration continues to push approval of this dangerous and unnecessary product through a broken regulatory system,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the center. “The GE salmon has no socially redeeming value; it’s bad for the consumer, bad for the environment, and bad for our native salmon.”

The FDA first announced in August 2010 that it was considering approval of genetically engineering salmon. If approved, it would be the first ever GE animal permitted for human consumption in this country. 

April 26 marked the close of a 120-day comment period on a revised draft environmental assessment for the GE salmon.

More information is available at www.centerforfoodsafety.org

The Norton Sound winter red king crab fishery ended at noon May 8, and it was so successful that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game was bursting with pride.

“Congratulations to Norton Sound commercial fishermen on the best winter crab season in our area’s history,” ADF&G said in a news release. “To date, the commercial catch this season of over 19,600 crabs is more than twice the previous record of 9,625 crabs caught during the first winter commercial season of 1977-78.”

The price also set a record at $6.67 per pound.

The open-access winter crab fishery involves driving out on the ice with snowmachines, cutting holes with chain saws, and deploying pots under the ice.

There were 25 participants this season.

Seawatch will be gone fishing until October.

Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.