Alaska’s Small Boat / Longline EM Program

EM Info Admin

Published June 29, 2016
  • The Program at a Glance


    • Fishery: Alaska Small Boat / Longline
    • Geographic Scope: Southeast, Southcentral and Southwestern waters of Alaska.
    • EM Program Purpose: Discard estimation from EM video footage, validation of seabird deterrent gear deployment.
    • Pilot Project Implementation: 2014-2017
    • Anticipated Program Implementation: 2018
    • Number of Participating Vessels: Up to 60 in 2016 Pilot; up to 90 in 2017
    • Questions and Challenges:
      • Operations: How to estimate at-sea discards directly from EM video rather than through a logbook audit approach.
      • Operations: How to strategically deploy EM units on a fleet that operates over a wide area and for irregular periods of time to obtain good data
      • Operations: Developing cost effective deployment and data retrieval procedures
      • Confidentiality/record-keeping/archiving: Fishermen have questions about confidentiality, ownership, and how long to retain video data

    Fleet & Fishery

    The small boat longline fleet in Alaska is comprised of some 1,100 halibut and sablefish vessels.

    Approximately 200 are over 58’ LOA and can generally accommodate an observer; 400 are between 40’ and 58’ LOA and may have trouble accommodating an observer, and 500 are below 40’ and deemed too small to carry an observer. Some are dedicated longliners while others are combination vessels that harvest additional species at different times of year. The priority for EM in Alaska is a subset of the 400 boats between 40’ and 58’ who have trouble accommodating an observer. Vessels larger than 58’ are also eligible for EM beginning in 2017 if funding permits.

    The Alaskan Observer Programs for the small boat fleet is a partial coverage program with sampling rates of 12% to 24% based on trips. At-sea monitoring is funded through a 1.25% tax placed on ex-vessel landings. The EM program is being similarly developed using a partial coverage approach with vessels randomly selected to carry EM systems for a period of time. Logbooks are not currently required on many of the vessels so the initial management objectives is to estimate discards based on EM video review rather than logbook audit.. The fleet operates across a huge area in Alaska, from Ketchikan in the Southeast part of the state to Kodiak and areas in the Western Gulf of Alaska.

    Deploying human observers across such a vast region is challenging to say the least. Most Alaskan ports are only accessible by air and water, while weather is often problematic. Adding another body to small vessels with very limited deck, bunk and living space can be impractical and may change operational behavior, thus introducing bias in the data.

    To develop an effective EM system in this fishery the North Pacific Fishery Management Council established an Electronic Monitoring Working Group, which brings together the many stakeholders needed to get the program up and running, including fishermen. The Working Group is focused on setting clear program objectives, getting all the affected parties involved, and working through technological, logistical and social issues as they arise.

    The drive to establish this EM program in the first place came primarily from the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA). ALFA received a grant from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to obtain EM equipment, outfit participating vessels with cameras and wiring systems, and to enable fishermen’s participation on the EM Working Group.

    Below is background information on this program, much of which has been graciously provided by ALFA.


    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: “parts and labor” costs, including data analysis, were $198/sea day for Sitka vessels and $332/sea day for Homer vessels. (these costs do not include program management or overhead)
    • May offer substantial savings, when compared to the cost of human observers under the restructured Observer Program.


    In 2015 ALFA (and their project partners) 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.  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. This “pre-implementation” effort will continue until regulations fully integrating EM are finalized in 2018. During the pre-implementation period, vessels carrying EM systems in 2016 and 2017 will receive a release from observer requirements.

    The 2016 EM pool will include up to 60 vessels, and the target number of vessels for 2017 is up to 90. With additional funding from NMFS, the goal of this “pre-implementation” effort is to install the sensors and camera that form the backbone of an EM system on interested vessels. Because many boats in this fishery are part-time or combination vessels – and in order to keep costs down, the computers that drive the system, EM control centers, will be shifted among participating vessels. Once the initial start-up and equipment costs are met, it is anticipated that the 1.25% fees collected on all vessels will supply most of the on-going funds needed for both the observer and EM programs.

    Pacific States Fisheries Management Commission is performing EM data review services for this program, and transmits data to the NMFS catch accounting staff in Juneau.

    As with other EM programs, fishermen and managers know that they’ll need to make changes “on the fly” to get the monitoring data required and make EM a practical reality for Alaska’s longliners and are attempting to structure the regulations with that needed flexibility in mind.

    An important step in making EM a success in this fishery will be developing industry consensus on the responsibilities of participating vessels.  Fishermen on the Working Group will use this consensus to negotiate details of the 2016 EFP deployment, which is intended to evolve into a comprehensive EM program in 2018.


    For more information about the Alaska Small Boat / Longline EM program, contact:

    Dan Falvey, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association: (907) 747-3400,

    Chris Rilling, Alaska Fisheries Science Center: (206) 526-4194,