Florida Charter Boat Captains Challenged to Step Up for Better Fishery Management

by / Newsroom Ink on October 17, 2015
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“As a fishermen I can guarantee you the chickens will come home to roost. There is very little time to get fishery management right,” said Florida federally permitted captain Mike Colby of Clearwater. “It is time for charter boats to step up to the plate to provide this much-needed information. If we don’t, I am fearful that our fishing opportunities for our customers in the future will be less and less.” Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

by Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editor

If you’re a Florida fisherman, or for that matter Gulf of Mexico fishermen, then you know that for year after year, there has been a need for more data, better data and more timely data. In short, a better data collection system to better manage the Gulf’s vast array of fisheries.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the Gulf Seafood Institute (GSI) and CLS America Corporation have teamed up to implement a two-year, federally-funded voluntary electronic logbook program for data collection in the Gulf of Mexico for the Gulf’s federally permitted charter-for-hire fishing fleet.

“As a fishermen I can guarantee you the chickens will come home to roost. There is very little time to get fishery management right,” said Florida federally permitted captain Mike Colby of Clearwater. “It is time for Florida charter boats to step up to the plate to provide this much-needed information.   If we don’t, I am fearful that our fishing opportunities for our customers in the future will be less and less.”

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Colby said that Florida’s legislators on Capitol Hill were instrumental in getting this program funded. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

The two-year program utilizes a wireless satellite connection to an Android tablet provided for use on any fishing vessel. A captain can enter both catch and discard data on all fish caught; most importantly, those that are commonly targeted like amberjack, grouper, snapper and triggerfish. “This is a multi-species data collection effort,” said the captain of the Double Hook, a 40-foot Stapleton six person charter boat.

Colby said that Florida’s legislators on Capitol Hill were instrumental in getting this program funded. With the passage of the FY 2015 Omnibus Appropriations Act, Congress took a major step forward in electronic data collection by providing the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) with $2 million in funding for a voluntary electronic data collection program for the national charter-for-hire fishing community and specifically for the Gulf of Mexico.

“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,” said GSI’s Executive Director Margaret Henderson.

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Equipment installed on each vessel will include an antenna, junction box and tablet. All equipment will be provided free of charge and at no cost to the vessel owner. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

The success of a voluntary electronic log book program will mean fisheries like Gulf red snapper and grouper will have a more accurate and more timely data source for use in future stock assessments to supplement NOAA’s Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) survey program.

When data is entered on the tablet, it is sent to fishery managers and can also be verified at dockside. The CLS America monitoring system verifies the effort portion. This VMS unit not only verifies the daily catch effort, but also acts as a constant weather update, vessel to land email system and acts as an emergency-indicating beacon in times of crisis.

Equipment installed on each vessel will include an antenna, junction box and tablet. All equipment will be provided free of charge and at no cost to the vessel owner. Installation can be done by the vessel owner or with the help of a CLS America technician. The negative ground 12-volt system comes with a regulator for 24 or 32-volt applications. Captain training for the project will take place at various locations across the State of Florida, as well as in Mississippi and Alabama.

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The only cost to boat captains will be a $65 a month satellite hookup fee. Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

“The only cost to boat captains will be a $65 a month satellite hookup fee,” he explained.

According to Colby, the idea of electronic data collection has been around for years. In 2010 the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council purposed to have federally permitted charter boats report using an electronic system.

“As councils are like to do, decisions move slowly, but now Florida fishermen have an opportunity in the Gulf to become pioneers in the use of this fishery management tool,” said the President of the Clearwater Marine Association which is comprised of 20 federally-permitted charter and head boats, along with 16 non fishing businesses. “This desperately-needed program is going to go a long way in showing that this kind of program can work.”

Seeking Florida Applicants

Program managers are seeking applicants in the Gulf, including the Florida fleets in Pensacola, Destin, Panama City, Tarpon Springs, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Naples, Cortez, Sarasota and Ft. Meyers. Mississippi and Alabama eligible boats have volunteered in large measure.

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“There are 735 federally-permitted boats in the state,” explained Colby. “We would like to have approximately 200 of those in this program.” Photo: Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

“There are 735 federally-permitted boats in the state,” explained Colby. “We would like to have approximately 200 of those in this program.”

For eastern Gulf fishermen, grouper is king. “South of Panama City all the way to Key West, grouper is the big money fish,” said the transplanted Texas Aggie who has been in Florida since 1980. “We are ham-n-eggs fishermen. We target kingfish, Spanish mackerel, red grouper, gag grouper, mango snapper and red snapper.”

Bringing an updated and enhanced system of collecting fisheries data is important to Colby. Real time reporting of catch effort through use of the CLS system would greatly improve the current MRIP which requires charter operators to recall effort over a two to four week time period.

In addition, the new EMS can help locate gaps in current existing data. “Once this new data is archived some of the current Gulf fishery data gaps can be filled, which is a big benefit to fishery managers because they can make more real time assessments of where fisheries are trending and what species are being targeted. It also gives pinpoint geographical locations of where the heavy efforts are taking place in the Gulf,” said the lifelong fishermen who got his captain’s license in 1984.

“We’ve been complaining for years, not enough data, not enough timely delivery of the data,” said Colby. “This project solves all of that. If not this project, then what?”


For more information, or to volunteer for the program, please contact one of the Florida regional coordinators:

Destin: Gary Jarvis – gjabd@aol.com – 850‐259‐5482

Panama City: Billy Archer – Bigtrig42@aol.com – 850‐527‐4966

Clearwater: Mike Colby – Captmike50@hotmail.com – 727‐461‐4533

Crystal River/ GSI Coordinator: Bob Gill – bgillbgill@embarqmail.com – 352‐795‐3843

Program Sponsors:

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Gulf Seafood Institute, CLS America

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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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