Centralized Mandatory Fishery Data Collection Moving Ahead

by Laurie Schreiber


When a vessel operator
decides to fish,
he will access a
web-based TMS and
record his intent to fish.


PORTSMOUTH, NH — Fishery regulators are working out details for a fishery-dependent data collection program that would continue to allow independent agencies to collect data but centralize the various data streams in a single system accessible to all.

At its January meeting, the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) heard from Barry Clifford, with the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, on the status of the project.

“We embarked on the project with the objective of modernizing our data collection programs,” said Clifford.

The project is entering the development phase.

The first change, he said, is the adoption of the “Trip ID” concept, which will provide the ability to electronically integrate individual data streams.

Trip ID will be generated by a Trip Management System (TMS), “the brains of the system,” said Clifford.

According to Clifford’s presentation, Trip ID will:

• Integrate the various individual collection programs

• Integration will provide a more complete, accurate, timely and accessible data set

• Reduce and eliminate data redundancy and inefficiencies

• Lessen burden to industry by reducing reporting systems

• Develop a modernized database structure

• Create a system that is adaptable and flexible

Clifford offered an example of how the system will work. When a vessel operator decides to fish, he will access a web-based TMS user interface and record his intent to fish. That will fulfill existing PTNS, VMS, and other pre-trip requirements. A unique Trip ID will be generated and associated with all data submitted for that trip. When a vessel operator decides to fish, he will simply access the TMS, and there will be no need to access the other systems.


Mandatory eVTR will
likely not be welcomed
with open arms by
all fishermen.


The system will exchange information with existing systems such as NOAA’s pre-trip notification system (PTNS), vessel monitoring systems (VMS), and the Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (NEFOP).

“What will this achieve?” Clifford said. “It will allow us to integrate the various data collection programs….It will result in more complete, accurate and timely data set.”

The goal is a data structure that can support both federal and state data. Existing data collection systems will not be eliminated, he said. Instead, the new system will eliminate the need for fishermen to utilize each system separately. They’ll be able to enter their data into the new system, and it will automatically integrate with existing system.

“We’ll develop a modernized infrastructure and modernized database that’s adaptable and flexible,” Clifford said.

The system will be integrated with the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program (ACCSP), the principal source of marine fishery statistics for the Atlantic coast fisheries; and with state data collection programs.

The TMS data initiates GARFO’s electronic vessel trip reporting (eVTR) requirement, thus eliminating redundancy. The Trip ID will automatically integrate with the eVTR and with observer records, will be pushed to dealers identified on that VTR as having bought catch, and will be pushed to other impacted data streams.

“We do have impediments to this idea,” Clifford said. “My sense is there’s some frustration about lack of progress on this project….We can build the systems and the tools and the programs, but our ability to implement them is limited. The devil’s in the details.”

Examples of challenges include:

• propagating Trip ID to dealers while ensuring confidentiality

• offload of multiple trips during a single offload event, which complicates the use of trip IDs

• the use of trucks and consignment houses, which breaks the chain of custody of the catch and complicates vessel and dealer reporting

• incorporating Trip ID into proprietary dealer reporting applications

The next immediate action includes assembling a project team to design and build TMS, hiring a developer/programmer, designing how TMS, PTNS, VMS, eVTR will be integrated, and identifying scenarios to first implement the Trip ID.

Clifford said NEFMC input is also needed regarding any regulatory action required to get the system going.

NEFMC member Elizabeth Etrie, who is program director for the Gloucester, Mass-based Northeast Sector Service Network, an industry group, recommended that program developers consider building in redundancy.

“You need to consider redundant systems in case something happens—if you have system failure or need to resort to a paper copy,” said Etrie.

Mandatory eVTR will likely not be welcomed with open arms by all fishermen, Clifford said.

“But it does seem counterintuitive to go down this road of modernization still relying on a seven-part paper form. Having said that, I certainly recognize the need for contingency plans, should an application crash or a vessel operator has, for whatever reason, the inability to utilize eVTR on a given trip.”

Farther down the road, said Clifford, eVTR as it’s currently conducted might become a thing of the past.

“It might be,” said Clifford, “that our entire suite of data collection program is accomplished in a different manner, perhaps as a single reporting stream where vessels contribute pieces of information and dealers contribute pieces of information, so you’re not trying to link together stovepipe systems. You’re simply generating a single data stream where different entities are contributing to the population of that data.

NEFMC member Mark Alexander wanted to know if state-licensed fishermen would also generate a trip ID using the same internal process that NOAA uses, or whether they would use a separate but compatible system.

“That’s a little bit further down the road than we’re at right now,” replied Clifford. “Conceptually, at a minimum, they’ll share the same system and talk to each other. So there won’t be duplicate requirements on a fishermen if he has both state and federal reporting.”


“I believe in the entire fleet,
less than 150 boats are
using eVTR.”

– Barry Clifford, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office’s
Northeast Fisheries
Science Center


NEFMC member Peter Kendall wanted to know the percentage of vessels now using eVTR.

“Minuscule,” said Clifford. “I believe in the entire fleet, less than 150 boats are using eVTR.”

“So that’s the biggest hurdle,” said Kendall. “How do you get the industry to buy into using eVTR and buy into this system?”

NEFMC member Vincent Balzano, who said he uses eVTR, recommended that one step to take is to get the software to operate on tablets.

NEFMC Executive Director Tom Nies wanted to know if fishermen have been directly involved in the project’s development.

“I’m thinking it might actually help shortcut some of the issues that will no doubt be realized when you come to the council, to involve the fishermen in the ideas you’re bringing forward,” Nies suggested.

Clifford said that, while fishermen were involved in the original scoping meetings and interviews a couple of years ago, they haven’t been involved since then. As part of project development, internal and external interviews were conducted with harvesters, dealers, and other industry representatives, 17 National Marine Fisheries Service offices and branches, 13 states, two councils, two commissions, and three non-government organizations.

Nies also wanted to know if the new system could potentially downgrade data quality.

“We had a couple of major changes in the reporting systems over the years,” Nies said. A big change occurred in 1994 with the adoption of a two-tier system. That was followed by dealer electronic reporting in the mid-aughts. “At times, those events appeared to cause a ripple in the space-time continuum” of the stock assessment process….I’ve sat through a lot of stock assessment meetings where people said things went to hell when we shifted reporting systems. I don’t know if that’s a fair complaint.” But as the design moves forward, Nies said, the aim should be to minimize the possibility that the new system results in data discontinuity or changes data quality in a way that results in more uncertainty in the assessment process.

“We’re cognizant of the issues,” responded Clifford. “I think our decision to approach this in a stepwise, modular fashion is exactly because of that concern.” At the outset, he said, all ideas were considered, including throwing out the old system and building a new one holistically. “However that certainly is a huge shift, which is why we decided to go with the modular, incremental approach. So I think we’ve mitigated that risk in large part because the underlying stovepipe data streams will remain in place. What we’re seeking to do is essentially, behind the scenes, link those stovepipes. So there won’t be significant changes to dealer reporting nor significant changes in the immediate future to VTR reporting. The most obvious change in behavior will simply be the manner in which vessel operators fulfill their pre-trip requirements. I think we see this as achieving efficiencies and making life easier for them, because they won’t have to access two, three, four different stovepipe system as part of their pre-trip routine. They can accomplish most, if not all of it, within TMS.”

Nies wanted to know if the program’s developers envisioned a time when there will be centralized management of the stovepipe systems.

“I don’t foresee any significant changes there,” Clifford said. But I do…foresee where ACCSP is going to be the data warehouse of all the fishery-dependent data. In some cases, they might be the direct point of submission, or they might get fed the data.”

Researcher Ron Smolowitz, with the Fisheries Survival Fund and the Coonamessett Farm Foundation, urged Clifford to include fishermen and dealers in the development of the program.