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Fish tracker goes international
Published:  22 March, 2012

High-tech "electronic eyes" designed by a Victoria company are being installed for testing on a tuna boat moored in the Seychelles but heading out shortly to the pirateplagued Indian Ocean.

The video-based electronic monitoring system, designed by Archipelago Marine Research, of Head Street, has been used for seven years to monitor fisheries on BC's groundfish fleet. Now it's starting to make waves internationally with tests in areas too dangerous for human observers.

"The interest that we have in our equipment is very broad. It is across a wide range of fisheries," Howard McElderry, vice-president of electronic monitoring for Archipelago, said on Monday.

Archipelago, established in 1978, has 180 employees and is an industry leader in its field.

Its sophisticated systems observe, record and review fishing efforts. Equipment includes an array of sensors, which triggers video cameras when fishing starts. An onboard control centre manages the system and logs data such as vessel location, speed and direction. Cameras are positioned to record scenes such as fish being hauled on board, being processed and what is discarded.

Fisheries managers use the technology to assist with maintaining quotas, catches of protected species and by-catch mitigation strategies. It is used to help verify log books, enforce regulations and support sustainable management practices.

Electronic monitoring is used in place of human observers who go out on fishboats to monitor fishing practices and catches. For a variety of reasons, not all fisheries use observers. Reasons include inability to get insurance for observers working in dangerous areas and the length of time a vessel might be out fishing.

A French company owns the vessel that is heading to the Indian Ocean around the end of this month to participate in a trial of Archipelago's system. Archipelago's equipment will be used on two fishing trips, McElderry said. The trials are on purse seiners, which use huge nets to haul in the catch.

Indian Ocean fishing will run until about the end of June. It follows trials onboard a Spanish-owned vessel, also a tuna boat, fishing off the coast of West Africa.

The trials represent the "first tropical tuna vessel" to test the electronic monitoring system, Archipelago said.

The Spanish company PEVASA volunteered its purse seiner Playa de Bakio for the initial trial for two fishing trips off Africa.

Archipelago is participating in the trial on behalf of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation. The joint effort is further supported by an onboard observer from AZTITecnalia, a research centre.

Playa de Bakio's equipment was installed in November and has been used since then, McElderry said. Its latest trip wraps up this month and a final report on the trials will be prepared.

McElderry was in Spain last week for meetings with groups involved in the trials to review data. "They were very happy," he said. On the strength of meetings last week, it appears there will be another pilot project with tuna boats in the Western Pacific in the next month or so," he said.

Globally the tuna fishery has about 600 vessels, McElderry said. "There's a fairly strong move to much, much, much higher levels, if not 100 per cent monitoring across the entire fishery."

The fleet has well-established on-board observer programs in some regions. But, "there are other areas like the Indian Ocean where it's impossible to monitor with observers simply because of the piracy problem, so this technology is an opportunity to expand monitoring in those areas," he said.

Shawn Stebbins, Archipelago president and CEO, said: "There isn't an equivalent technology in use anywhere in the world. There are some that are similar but not applied in the same way that we've applied. There's interest in looking at what's been done in B.C."

The electronic monitoring system assists in addressing public interest in sustainable fisheries, Stebbins said.

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