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Warning to tuna fishing crews around the world who may be hauling up ravaged dolphins along with their tuna catch: Someone is watching.
Cameras on a fishing boat
by Archipelago Marine Research
The chief executive officer of Victoria-based Archipelago Marine Research Ltd. has made it his business to help governments and industry groups around the world monitor catches to avoid overfishing, and to protect other species from getting caught up in the action.
The company has developed digital technology—primarily CCTV cameras and recording devices—that can be installed on commercial fishing vessels to provide an independent record of a crew’s catch at sea. Many countries with rules limiting the allowable catch have enforced them by putting an observer on each boat. This is expensive, however, and as governments began offloading the cost onto industry, smaller boats couldn’t afford it.
Stebbins and his team at Archipelago saw a niche and began testing cameras. His company installs them, and the fishing crew must then submit time-stamped recordings to the proper authority for verification. Any tampering, blocking of lenses or missing footage would be recorded on the removable hard drive containing the data.
British Columbia has garnered a reputation for developing leading technology in oceanographic data collection, Stebbins says. “The west coast of Canada is well known on an international basis for what it’s doing. As a result, other countries are looking to B.C. for better ways to manage their fisheries.”
The company has been around since 1978 and began developing electronic monitoring technology in 2000 with the B.C. crab fishery. By 2006 it was working with fisheries in several countries, and by 2008 it also had clients in Washington, Oregon, California and Alaska. Then it expanded to Europe, Australia and New Zealand, where its clients are primarily governments.
Archipelago has always worked with industry to develop technologies that would reduce inconvenience to the fishing operators while providing governments with an independent, verifiable way to meet catch limits.
But while responsibility for monitoring rests almost entirely on the industry in B.C., that’s not the case everywhere. In Denmark, Scotland, Britain and the Netherlands, governments fund all monitoring of catches. This has presented challenges to Archipelago.
“We like working with industry—they are practical, and together we have a better chance of coming up with good long-term solutions,” says Stebbins. “I can see in these other jurisdictions (where his clients are governments) that the industry still has the perspective of having to comply with the rules. They aren’t part of the process.”
Another challenge has been technology acceptance. “We fell into a bit of a trap,” he explains. “We created a great technology and implemented it in our own backyard and with the early adopters internationally. We thought it would fly everywhere, no problem.”
That wasn’t the case. Archipelago, with a staff of 175, is thus putting more effort into education and marketing. In some cases, it is stepping back and slowing things down enough to answer questions, provide demonstrations and offer trial periods. “This isn’t just a widget that you put on the boat to solve the problem,” Stebbins said. “It’s a whole new way of thinking around the technology.”
He’s also using early adopters as champions, and attending more academic and trade shows and bringing industry groups to B.C. Stebbins is convinced that digital monitoring of fishing vessels is poised for strong growth. “In many parts of the world there isn’t a lot of independent fisheries monitoring,” he says. “There is self-reporting—they just fill out a log, and that’s it.”
Placing observers on a boat can be difficult to manage and costly, though in complex fisheries that bring in tens of thousands of pounds of 20 different species at a time, human monitoring is still warranted. The GPS-equipped technology also is able to monitor whether a crew is fishing only in a certain area.
A key growth market, says Stebbins, is international fishing zones that fall outside of any one country’s jurisdiction, such as the high-seas tuna fishery. There, Archipelago’s client is the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, a global, non-profit partnership of industry and science groups that ensures countries with a tuna fishery are following sustainability guidelines set out to conserve tuna stocks, reduce by-catch (destruction of other species caught up in the nets) and promote sustainability of the ecosystem. Archipelago helps the foundation keep an eye on fishing vessels.
The company must also monitor what consumers want. A good example is dolphin-free tuna. Dolphins are a common by-catch in tuna fisheries, as they can often be found swimming together with schools of tuna. “Some of the advances in sustainable fishing are driven by governments, but a huge driver is the consumer,” Stebbins says. “There’s a large movement of people who want to buy fish from sustainably managed fisheries.” As a result, his company is seeing more and more interest from industry organizations that want help proving to the customer that their products fit that requirement.
This strategy also fits his goal to grow revenue. Governments around the world are grappling with shrinking budgets.
“Having a sales perspective that includes helping potential customers understand the value of what you’re doing—that is essential,” says Stebbins. “If you don’t have that, you’re not going anywhere.”