Three-Hundred Gulf Charter-for-Hire Captains Anxiously Await Voluntary Electronic Log Book Monitoring

by / Newsroom Ink on March 17, 2015
Red Snapper Group

With passage last year of the FY 2015 Omnibus Appropriations Act, Congress took a major step forward when it provided the National Marine Fisheries Service with $2 million in funding for electronic data collection of Gulf Red Snapper. Photo: Gulf Council

by Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editor

The implementation of electronic data capture by Gulf of Mexico charter-for-hire fisherman later this year will mean fisheries like Gulf Red Snapper will have a more accurate data source for use in future stock assessments to supplement the current Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) survey program.

“The new electronic log book (ELB) program for the Gulf’s federally sanctioned charter-for-hire captains is the out growth of workshops held by Gulf Seafood Institute (GSI) in 2014 to assess the needs of charter captains Gulf-wide,” said GSI Florida board member Bob Gill. “This voluntary program was conceived by charter captains for charter captains from Florida to Texas. Its aim is to solve current problems facing an industry that provides millions of dollars in hospitality revenues to all five Gulf State coffers.”

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“The new electronic log book (ELB) program for the Gulf’s federally sanctioned charter-for-hire captains is the out growth of workshops held by Gulf Seafood Institute (GSI) in 2014 to assess the needs of charter captains Gulf-wide,” said GSI Florida board member Bob Gill. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

With passage last year of the FY 2015 Omnibus Appropriations Act, Congress took a major step forward when it provided the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) with $2 million in funding for electronic data collection. The agency was directed to utilize the funding to support a voluntary electronic data collection program for the charter-for-hire fishing community in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as in other regions of the country.

“While the appropriated funds could be utilized in other regions of the U.S., we are confident the Gulf Coast is best prepared to utilize these funds quickly and effectively as demonstrated by the willingness of our charter captains and others to get this done starting immediately,” said GSI Executive Director Margaret Henderson. “The Gulf Council, charter captains, and stakeholders Gulf-wide have been calling for a program like this for years and it’s high time something gets done to help increase the volume of accurate, real-time data on red snapper in the Gulf recreational fishery.”

The validation program would aid in the accuracy and completeness of an electronic logbook data collection program for approximately 300 federally permitted vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. It would compliment a similar program that has been utilized by the commercial Gulf red snapper fleet for more than five years. Combined, the two programs would provide accurate catch numbers for more than 70% of the red snapper caught in the Gulf.

“The methods for validation would include dockside survey interviews of completed fishing trips along with at-sea observer sampling trips for participating Gulf States,” explained Gill about the program. “More than 100 boats in the Destin/Panama City area of Florida, 90 boats in Alabama, 20 boats in the Venice area of Louisiana and 40 boats in the Galveston/Freeport area of Texas are ready to implement the program when funding becomes available.”

First Program for Federal Charter Boats

With the exception of headboats, no federally permitted charter-for-hire vessel in the Gulf has ever recorded vessel specific catch and effort data using a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) program.  Gulf captains cited a need to for a system to collect data from the industry that would be used as an input to the stock assessment process. Developing a catch history will reduce the uncertainty in the recreational sector, both in terms of effort and catch.

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“Considerable numbers of boat captains in Florida, and across the Gulf, have already offered to buy the equipment on their own underscoring the industry’s desire to move forward with a VMS/ELB program,” said Florida charter boat captain Michael Colby of Clearwater’s Double Hook Charters. Photo: Double Hook Charters

According to Gill, the concept of the new program is to jump start the process by providing VMS and electronic data collection equipment to a voluntary group of boats, and requiring captains to report their catch and effort data in a predetermined acceptable format for use as stock assessment input data sets. All this would be covered by the federally appropriated funds for FY 2015.

“Considerable numbers of boat captains in Florida, and across the Gulf, have already offered to buy the equipment on their own underscoring the industry’s desire to move forward with a VMS/ELB program,” said Florida charter boat captain Michael Colby of Clearwater’s Double Hook Charters. “A negative ground 12 or 24 volt electronic log book can be installed and tested in a half day or less. A monthly monitoring fee of between $50-$60 has been discussed with Clearwater Marine Operators, and the majority have agreed to pay the fee themselves if the pilot study does not provide funding for this service. Red snapper, grouper, mango, and kingfish charter fishermen all see the benefit of building an effort and catch history that will benefit the fisheries as well as their business.”

Many Members of the Gulf Congressional Delegation have taken the lead in ensuring NOAA swiftly distributes the funds for the Gulf recreational electronic data collection. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Representative Bradley Byrne of Alabama led the effort on a Congressional letter signed by 10 Members of Congress and Senators which was sent to Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker urging the funds immediate release.

Woman Snapper

“Establishing real-time, verifiable data for the red snapper fishery in the Gulf is of the utmost importance to the recreational fishing community,” said Florida Senator Marco Rubio in the letter to Sec. of Commerce Penny Pritzker. Photo: Gulf Council

“Establishing real-time, verifiable data for the red snapper fishery in the Gulf is of the utmost importance to the recreational fishing community,” said Florida Senator Marco Rubio in the letter. His leadership illustrates the importance of electronic data collection to Florida’s fishermen, his constituents, and the broader economy of the region.

Once funding is released, equipment will be purchased and provided to selected charter fisherman. Qualified personnel will install the equipment on approximately 300 vessels that have volunteered for the program throughout the Gulf, and boat owners will receive instruction regarding operation and maintenance.

While all data will be input, a subset of the 300 units will be utilized to provide a statistically robust sample set for use as the data calibration to the MRIP survey data. All 300 units will be part of a validation program designed and operated by a qualified third party. Implementation will be as rapid as possible which is necessitated by the recent approval by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council of Amendment 40, designation of a separate red snapper quota for the for hire sector with a three year sunset provision.

More Than 200 Florida Captains

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“We have more than 200 federally permitted vessels just in Florida alone who have agreed to participate in the volunteer program,” said Captain Gary Jarvis of Destin’s Back Down 2 and President of the Destin Charter Boat Association. “Since the passage of Amendment 40 by the Gulf Council, the charter- for-hire industry moves into it own Fishery Management Plan.” Photo: Back Down 2

“We have more than 200 federally permitted vessels just in Florida alone who have agreed to participate in the volunteer program,” said Captain Gary Jarvis of Destin’s Back Down 2 and President of the Destin Charter Boat Association. “Since the passage of Amendment 40 by the Gulf Council, the charter- for-hire industry moves into it own Fishery Management Plan. It is very important to explore all methods of self reported data and validation of this data. An electronic logbook based off of VMS satellite communication capabilities is only one of many systems that need to be evaluated to see if the data transfer and validation protocols are user friendly and cost effective. Electronic logbooks will be the back bone of a real time accountable fishery that will help our sector stay within its annual allocation and promote superior fishery dependent data, both of which will bring increased access to red snapper recreational management.”

While funds have been appropriated, the program design, agency spending plans, and a majority of project details are still a work in progress. A timeline is not yet been identified, and changes will develop as the project matures.

Gill says the project provides a new data stream that will improve the certainty of the recreational harvest and its impact on fish stocks. “It lends a new stability with unmatched catch and effort data accuracy to the current surveys being used. Most importantly it is a huge step in improved data, which will in turn improve the science for which everyone have been clamoring,” he said. “If there is unanimity on anything fishery management related, it is the output from a program such as this.”

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Jim Green, captain of charter boat American Spirit and vice- president of the Destin Charter Boat Association, has been self-reporting data as a headboat operator for years. For him the electronic data collection is breath of fresh air that is taking its first steps towards modernizing the Gulfs data collection system. Photo: Destin Log

Jim Green, captain of charter boat American Spirit and vice- president of the Destin Charter Boat Association, has been self-reporting data as a headboat operator for years. For him the electronic data collection is breath of fresh air that is taking its first steps towards modernizing the Gulfs data collection system.

“As our industry moves into the 21st century with real time catch data and accurate effort monitoring we will finally be able to remove ourselves from the extrapolation,” said Captain Green. “This is a huge step in the right direction, and literally answers the pleads of every for-hire public testimony the Gulf Council has heard in the last decade. We will finally be able to count our fish, and lay the foundation of an unprecedented amount of recreational accountability. I want to send a huge thank you to all the congressional delegates that have supported this chance to prove we can provide accurate and timely data. We will not let your efforts go to waste. We take this responsibility that you have bestowed upon us very seriously and will not let you down.”

In a recent article in Gulf Seafood News, Alabama’s First Congressional District Representative Bradley Byrne said one of the major challenges facing Red Snapper management in the Gulf of Mexico is the lack of adequate data to support the current management structures. “Supporting a Gulf electronic data collection program represents a very important investment towards improving the tools we have to adequately manage our fishery,” he said.

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About the Author

About the Author: Ed Lallo is the former editor of Gulf Seafood News and CEO of Newsroom Ink, an online brand journalism agency. .

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