Electronic monitoring in fisheries: Lessons from global experiences and future opportunities

By: Isabelle Geller, SRC intern

Marine life and the resources the oceans provide are not infinitely abundant. To protect the seas’ limited resources, protection and monitoring are of the utmost importance.

Prior to the 20th century, the impacts of large-scale fishing operations on the marine ecosystem were unknown and under-monitored. Today there is that technology that exists, such as Electronic Monitoring systems, which enable fisheries an easy way to adequately monitor their catch.

Electronic monitoring systems, or EM for short, consist of various sensors positioned on the vessel to remotely record fishing activity and catches – these include geographic positioning systems (GPS) and cameras, paired with computer hardware (Figure 1). The recordings taken are able to be replayed later to generate important catch information including species composition, numbers, volumes, and lengths (van Helmond et. al 2020). One of the advantages of the EM system is that it could eliminate the need for high cost “catch observing” personnel aboard fishing vessels.

Figure 1: Typical electronic monitoring system setup (van Helmond 2020).

A recent study found EM systems to have numerous advantages and disadvantages (Figure 2).

Three important disadvantages of the EM system include

  1. Possible data loss and the risk of system failure.
  2. Camera placement may be intrusive or blocked by dirt or vessel personnel.
  3. Low acceptance from the fishing industry because the system may represent governments’ mistrust of the fishers.

Figure 2: Analysis of the EM data collection compared with previous data collection methods (van Helmond 2020).

Despite the threats and disadvantages detailed above, according to the study the following three advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages.

  1. In the long term the EM program is much more cost efficient than the current on-board observer program.
  2. Since recordings can be re-watched later to verify data, the EM system enables fisheries to document better fleet representations.
  3. Location and catch registration are made easier by the onboard GPS and ability to verify accurate bycatch.

The study found that EM on its can be used to fully document a fishery or in combination with current data collection techniques for management and compliance and or scientific data collection. The biggest challenge that proponents of EM systems face moving forward is the ability to rebrand their purpose as one of verifying fishers’ manual documentation of catch (for accurate data collection and fisheries management), rather than one of government intrusion based on mistrust.



Works cited

van Helmond, ATM, Mortensen, LO, Plet‐Hansen, KS, et al. Electronic monitoring in fisheries: Lessons from global experiences and future opportunities. Fish Fish. 2020; 21: 162– 189.

Five Keys to Effective Marine Protected Areas

By Lindsay Jennings, RJD Intern

Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs, are areas of the ocean which have a degree of restricted human use for the purpose of protecting its natural resources as well as its ecosystem. Over the past years, the number of MPAs has grown rapidly as conservation efforts push the need for these critical refuges for vulnerable species. But the threat of overfishing still prevails in both coastal areas and in the open ocean, where these MPAs exist.

Picture 1

Salomon Atoll located in the Chagos Archipelago, the world’s largest marine reserve. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, too often, MPAs fall short of reaching their full potential due to a host of problems including illegal harvesting, poor management, and the presence of animals which can move freely across the boundaries to be fished outside of the MPA. But Graham Edgar, from the University of Tasmania, along with 24 other researchers took on the first global study of its kind to identify what key factors produce effective MPAs and allow them to reach their full potential.

 The researchers, along with trained volunteer divers surveyed 964 sites across 87 established MPAs identifying the key indicators of healthy MPAs such as species richness (i.e. how many unique fish species are found) and biomass (i.e. the total number of fish in a survey site). They compared these sites with non-MPA sites that are open to fishing. The results highlight the magnitude of how fishing can affect these species and ecosystems.


Distribution of sites surveyed with colored circles representing NOELI features. Photo courtesy of Edgar et al., 2014

Outside of MPAs (areas where fishing is allowed), Edgar et al. found total fish abundance drastically reduced, with upwards of an 80% reduction in large fish, including sharks, groupers, and jacks as compared to fish abundance within the MPAs. Inside these protected MPAs, the number of unique fish species found was 36% greater than that outside the MPAs in fished waters.

The outcome of the MPAs investigated resulted in the researchers concluding that conservation benefits increased greatly with five key features, which they named NOELI features.

  • No take (no fishing or harvesting allowed)
  • Well-enforced
  • Old (>10 years)
  • Large (> 100 km)
  • Isolated

While not every MPA will meet all five criteria, it is crucial that future MPAs implement better design and management and compliance to ensure that these refuges achieve their full ecological potential and conservation value.

MPAs are remarkable conservation tools, if developed and managed properly. The researchers in this study stress that by removing the threat of fishing coupled with sufficient will among stakeholders, managers, and politicians, there can be increased levels of compliance, ultimately allowing the MPAs to reach their full conservation potential and fulfill their role of safeguarding populations of vulnerable species.

Climate Change and Corals: Is it too late?

By Jacob Jerome, RJD Graduate Student and Intern

There have been numerous studies that focus on the alterations that climate change can have on the marine environment and how those alterations affect corals. In the marine science field coral bleaching and the disappearance of coral reefs is widely discussed. One of the primary debates centers around whether or not it is too late to save coral reefs. But is this doom and gloom viewpoint how we should be looking at this situation? Many scientists argue that there is still hope for coral reefs.

It is important to first understand the threats that climate change pose to corals. There are two main threats: a rise in ocean temperatures and a lowering of the ocean’s pH, a process known as ocean acidification.

Higher temperatures stress corals and cause them to lose their symbiotic algae, or zooxanthellae (NOAA,2011). These symbiotic algae are what give corals their color and without them the corals turn white, an event known as coral bleaching. This bleaching can have several negative impacts on the coral polyps. Corals and their symbiotic algae have what is called a mutualistic symbiotic relationship; this is a relationship where both species benefit from interacting with one another. Corals provide their symbiotic algae with a protected environment and compounds they need for photosynthesis. The symbiotic algae, in return, provide corals with the products of photosynthesis, a suite of compounds that provide food for the corals and aid in the production of calcium carbonate. Although still alive, by losing their symbiotic algae, corals experience increased stress and are more prone to disease (NOAA, 2011).


A clear depiction of coral bleaching (Joe Bartoszek 2010/Marine Photobank)

Ocean acidification occurs due to the overwhelming amount of carbon dioxide that is absorbed into the ocean from the Earth’s atmosphere. When carbon dioxide is absorbed into the water, the pH of the water decreases and the water becomes more acidic. Low pH waters limit the rate at which corals can produce calcium carbonate and also increase the rate at which calcium carbonate dissolves (Andersson et al., 2014). Corals use calcium carbonate to build their hard exoskeleton. If corals are not able to produce calcium carbonate quicker than the rate at which it dissolves, they cannot grow.

Knowing these threats, many assume that corals have little hope for surviving through the end of this century. According to the Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2008, 19 percent of the world’s coral reefs are gone or cannot recover, 15 percent are seriously threatened, and 20 percent are under the threat of loss within the next 20 to 40 years. So, is it too late for corals? Are these threats too great for us to effectively manage them? New scientific research indicates that not all corals are quite ready to give up.

Figure 2

A table summarizing the status of the world’s coral reefs in 2008 (Wilkinson, C. 2008)

Just last year, Australian scientists discovered that coral animals alone are able to produce dimethylsulphoniopropionate (DMSP), a sulphur-based molecule with properties that can provide protection on a cellular level to corals in times of heat stress (Raina et al., 2013). This was the first time that an animal had been discovered to produce DMSP. They also found that corals increased their production of DMSP when subjected to higher water temperatures (Raina et al., 2013). This new information illustrates that corals, even without their symbiotic algae, can “fight” against temperature shifts. While this does not mean that corals can entirely defend themselves against rising temperatures, it does indicate an ability to adapt, to an extent, to these changes.

In addition, a study in the Cayman Islands revealed that a coral reef system that suffered a 40 percent reduction in corals due to bleaching and diseases was able to recover seven years later (Manfrino et al., 2013). The corals in the Cayman Islands are known to be healthy and are afforded some protection from fishing and anchoring. This protection definitely aided in their recovery along with their isolation, a small human population, and a generally healthy ecology (Manfrino et al., 2013). Nonetheless, the Cayman Islands can serve as an example of what can happen when reef management is taken seriously.

In Palau, something remarkable has been discovered. By taking water samples from 9 different locations that stretched from open ocean, across a barrier reef, and into a lagoon and bays, scientists discovered that the sea water became increasingly acidic as they moved toward land (Shamberger et al., 2014). What was even more surprising was that the level of acidity was as high as scientists had predicted for the open ocean by the end of this century. Even so, healthy and diverse coral reefs were found in these areas. In fact, the corals appeared healthier in the more acidic areas than they did in the less acidic areas (Shamberger et al., 2014). While these results are incredible, caution should be taken when interpreting them. The environment surrounding the corals of Palau might create a “perfect storm” for environmental conditions that allow the corals to survive in the acidic waters. Even so, this area has been functioning the same way for thousands of years and may have unintentionally modified the corals in that area genetically. If this is the case, those corals can essentially be put in other acidic environments and survive. This discovery could have huge implications for the survival of corals.

It is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that these new discoveries do not mean that corals are safe under ocean conditions that have resulted from climate change. It does mean, however, that there is still hope for some corals. Climate change is difficult to prevent and changing human habits can be even harder. But if we can release the myriad of other stresses that are put on corals and think about our carbon footprint, corals just might stand a chance for their beauty to be enjoyed for generations to come.



Andersson, A. J., Yeakel, K. L., Bates, N. R., de Putron, S. J. (2014). “Partial offsets in ocean acidification from changing coral reef biogeochemistry.” Nature Climate Change, 4(1): 56–61.

“Coral Bleaching And Ocean Acidification Are Two Climate-Related Impacts to Coral Reefs.” How Is Climate Change Affecting Coral Reefs? Ed. National Ocean Service. NOAA, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2014. <>.

Manfrino, C., Jacoby, C.A., Camp, E., Frazer, T.K. (2013). “A Positive Trajectory for Corals at Little Cayman Island.” PLoS ONE, 8(10): e75432.

Raina, J.B., Tapiolas, D.M., Forêt, S., Lutz, A., Abrego, D., Ceh, J., Seneca, F.O., Clode, P.L., Bourne, D.G. Willis, B.L., Motti, C.L. (2013). “DMSP biosynthesis by an animal and its role in coral thermal stress response.” Nature, 502: 677-680.

Shamberger, K. E. F. Cohen, A.L., Golbuu, Y., McCorkle, D.C., Lentz, S.J., Barkley, H.C. (2014). “Diverse coral communities in naturally acidified waters of a Western Pacific Reef.” Geophysical Research Letters, 41: 499504.

Wilkinson, C. (2008). Status of the Coral Reefs of the World: 2008. Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and Reef and Rainforest Research Centre, Townsville, Australia, 296p. 3/10/2014.

Hawaiian Humpback Whale Conservation

Hannah Armstrong, RJD Intern

The world’s diverse oceans are essentially interconnected, and, in turn, what effects one ecosystem can ripple around the globe.  With countless threats impacting the oceans and its inhabitants, conservation has been a critical topic of debate among both scientists and citizens.  Research efforts are growing to find the best and most effective way to manage and maintain healthy ecosystems.  Marine Protected Areas, for example, are a means of conservation; they can restore ecosystems and allow them to thrive to their utmost potential.  In addition, by utilizing geographic information systems (GIS) and similar tools, scientists can collect and use data to observe and predict both present and future problems regarding the world’s oceans, and ultimately find solutions toward maintaining healthier, sustainable oceans.

Globally, humpback whale populations were depleted by the commercial whaling industry at the beginning of the 20th century.  In 1973, however, the United States government made it illegal to hunt, harm, or disturb humpback whales (NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources).  When the Endangered Species Act was eventually passed, the humpback whale became listed as endangered.  Additional laws protect humpback whales, such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, various state wildlife laws, and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.  Their protection is also extended as a resource of national significance within the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

In 1992, following the 1967 success of the Marine Life Conservation Districts, Congress implemented the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary to protect the whales and their habitat (NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries).  Located within the shallow warm waters surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands and constituting one of the world’s most important humpback whale habitats, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary [HIHWNMS] is managed by both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the State of Hawaii (NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries).  The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is crucial not just for protecting and conserving Humpback whale populations, but also for protecting Hawaiian monk seals, spinner dolphins, sea turtles, other species of whales and dolphins, coral reefs, reef fish, invertebrates and sea [and shore] birds.

The sanctuary has experienced success through research, education and, more specifically, through the use of GIS.  Often considered a mapping tool, GIS offers a way to “view, query, interpret, and visualize various sorts of spatial data to reveal geographic relationships, patterns, and trends (NOAA).”  Moreover, “maps, charts, and analytical reports can be derived from the data stored in a GIS as a means of documenting and explaining spatial patterns and relationships to assist in planning and decision-making processes (NOAA).”  As seen in GIS-generated maps, the density of marine life, specifically humpback whales, is significantly higher in and around the sanctuary, compared to the density outside the sanctuary boundary.  Hawaii has already developed an elaborate network of Marine Life Conservation Districts; coupled with GIS programming, the two are useful in evaluating critical habitats and relevant ecosystem processes to establish adequate boundaries for marine protected areas.

HumpbackWhaleDensity (1)

With data courtesy of Joseph R. Mobley, this GIS-generated map depicts the Hawaiian Humpback Whale density in and surrounding the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (Mobley, Joseph R. “Humpback Whale Surface Sightings and Estimated Surface Density.” NOAA, 14 Jan. 2013)

As is evident in Hawaii, using mapping tools can contribute toward effective means of conservation.  GIS and related software is being used more frequently to map oceanic habitats, as well as things like water quality, species distribution, population, pollution, fishing grounds, and other factors that influence marine life.  Going forward into the future, the selection and establishment of marine protected areas will depend on the connectivity of targeted species, and GIS will contribute to making these decisions.




“National Marine Protected Areas Center: GIS for Marine Protected Areas.” National Marine Protected Areas Center. NOAA, 28 June 2013.

“National Marine Protected Areas Center: The Hawaii Coastal Use Mapping Project.” National Marine Protected Areas Center. NOAA, 22 Oct. 2013.

“Humpback Whale (Megaptera Novaeangliae).” NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. NOAA, 5 Sept. 2013. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.

“GIS for Ocean Conservation.” Esri, Dec. 2007.