FAQS for Electronic Monitoring (EM) on Small Fixed Gear Vessels

These frequently asked questions (FAQs) summarize regulations applicable to the North Pacific fisheries. If you are required to comply with the regulations, you should consult and rely on the actual regulatory text found in the CFR or the eCFR . Links to the regulations can be found at the NMFS Alaska Region website at https://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/fisheries/.

General Overview

How do I learn more about the EM program?

More information about the EM program can be found in the Final Rule to Integrate Electronic Monitoring into the North Pacific Observer Program and on the NMFS Alaska Region website.  Information about the current purpose, data collection objectives, and annual selection rates can be found in the. Information about the current purpose, data collection objectives, and annual selection rates can be found in the Annual Deployment Plan (ADP).

Who should I contact to learn more about the EM program?

Regulatory Questions:

Jennifer Watson
Sustainable Fisheries
PO Box 21668
Juneau, AK 99802
jennifer.watson@noaa.gov
(907) 586-7537

EM Selection Pool:
Mike Vechter
Fisheries Monitoring & Analysis
222 West 7th Ave, Stop 7
Anchorage, AK 99513
mike.vechter@noaa.gov
(907) 271-1696

EM Selection Pool Eligibility

What vessels are eligible to join the EM selection pool?

Owners or operators of vessels that use nontrawl (fixed) gear and are in the partial coverage category can request to join the EM selection pool.  Vessels that use trawl gear at any point in the year are not eligible to join the EM selection pool.

How does a vessel join the EM selection pool?

Each year, vessel owners or operators may request to join or leave the EM selection pool using an application available through the Observer Declare and Deploy System (ODDS).  ODDS will be available to opt in to participate in EM or leave the EM selection pool starting September 1 each year.  Vessel owners or operators must request to join or leave the EM selection pool by November 1 to use EM or be removed from the EM selection pool in the following calendar year.

How will a vessel owner or operator be notified that the vessel has been approved or denied for the EM selection pool?

NMFS will notify the vessel owner via ODDS whether that vessel has been approved or denied for the EM selection pool.  Vessel owners will be able to review their approval status by logging into ODDS after November 15 each year.  NMFS will deny vessels that did not meet the EM selection pool criteria.

Where do I find this year’s EM selection pool criteria?

The EM selection pool criteria are specified at § 679.51(f) and described in the ADP.

How long can a vessel be in the EM selection pool?

Once NMFS has approved a vessel for participation in the EM selection pool, that vessel will remain in the EM selection pool for the entire calendar year.  The vessel will remain in the EM selection pool each subsequent year until the vessel owner or operator requests to leave or NMFS removes the vessel from the EM selection pool because it no longer meets the EM selection pool criteria or NMFS disapproves its vessel monitoring plan (VMP).

Could a vessel be in the EM selection pool and an observer selection pool?

No.  Vessels are either in the EM selection pool or in an observer selection pool.  Vessels are not subject to both EM coverage and observer coverage.

How does a vessel leave the EM selection pool?

The vessel owner or operator uses ODDS to submit a request to leave the EM selection pool by November 1 for the following calendar year.

NMFS may also remove a vessel from the EM selection pool for the following calendar year.  NMFS will remove a vessel if NMFS disapproves the vessel’s VMP or if the vessel no longer meets the EM selection pool criteria.

Can a vessel leave the EM selection pool during a calendar year?

No.  Vessels may not leave the EM selection pool during a calendar year because NMFS needs to maintain the sampling design used for that year.

Where can the annual selection rate for the EM pool be found?

The ADP specifies the EM selection rate—the portion of trips that are sampled—for each calendar year.  NMFS and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council may change the EM selection rate from one calendar year to the next to achieve efficiency, cost savings, and data collection goals.  EM selection rates will not change during a calendar year.

EM System Installation

How does a vessel owner or operator install the EM system?

Once a vessel is approved for the EM selection pool, the vessel owner or operator will make the vessel available to the NMFS-contracted EM service provider for installation of all required EM system components.  During the installation, it is the vessel owner’s responsibility to assist the EM service provider with planning the best wiring routes and installing sensors that interface with the vessel’s equipment, such as hydraulic oil pressure and engine oil pressure.  The EM service provider will install cameras in locations that meet the catch accounting objectives annually specified in the ADP.

What are the specifications for the EM systems?

The specifications for the EM components to be installed can be found on the NMFS Alaska Region website.

How long does it take to install EM equipment?

The length of time to complete an installation depends on the configuration of the vessel, the ability of vessel crew members to assist in the installation, and other factors specific to each vessel.  The vessel owner or operator should contact the EM service provider to obtain an estimate of the time to complete an installation on the vessel.

Where can EM system installations occur?

EM system installations can be routinely scheduled in the primary ports of Homer, Kodiak, and Sitka, AK. Secondary ports such as Juneau, Petersburg, Sand Point, King Cove, and Dutch Harbor may have periodic EM installation services available.  The EM service provider will notify the vessel owner or operator about scheduled times for installations in secondary ports.  Vessels not available during scheduled dates of EM installation in a secondary port must travel to a primary port for EM installation services prior to the date of their first logged trip in ODDS.

Vessel Monitoring Plans

What is a Vessel Monitoring Plan (VMP)?

A VMP is the document created by the vessel owner or operator with assistance from the EM service provider that describes how fishing operations on the vessel are conducted, including how gear is set, how catch is brought on board, and where catch is retained and discarded.  It also describes how the EM system and associated equipment is configured to meet the data collection objectives and purpose of the EM program, including camera locations to cover all fishing activities, any sensors to detect fishing activities, and any special catch handling requirements to ensure the data collection objectives can be met.  The VMP also includes methods to troubleshoot the EM system and instructions for ensuring the EM system is functioning properly.  These required components of the VMP are detailed in the VMP template.  NMFS provides a VMP template for guidance to the EM service provider and the vessel owner or operator on the elements NMFS requires in the final approved VMP. A VMP template is available on the NMFS Alaska Region website.

How would a vessel owner or operator develop a VMP?

Once approved for the EM selection pool and prior to registering a fishing trip in ODDS, the vessel owner or operator must develop a VMP with the EM service provider and submit a signed copy to NMFS for approval.  A vessel in the EM selection pool must have a copy of a valid NMFS-approved VMP on board before that vessel goes fishing.

How is a VMP approved?

After reviewing the data from a fishing trip selected for EM coverage, NMFS may determine that the approved camera location(s) in the VMP or fishing activities conducted by the vessel crew outlined in the VMP do not allow for the data collection necessary for catch accounting.  Additionally, the vessel operator may want to have a camera moved if it impedes his or her ability to fish, or the operator may re-configure the vessel to change fishing activities during the season that would warrant changes to the VMP.  Whether requested by the vessel owner or operator or by NMFS, the vessel owner or operator is required to make any changes to the VMP with the assistance of the EM service provider.  These amendments to the VMP must be signed and submitted to NMFS.  The vessel will be allowed to begin another fishing trip, provided that NMFS has received the VMP amendments in writing.  If the amended VMP did not meet the data collection needs, NMFS will inform the EM service provider and the vessel owner or operator that the VMP needs to be updated before another trip selected for EM coverage may begin.

Fishing Trips selected for EM Coverage

What is the definition of a fishing trip for EM coverage?

For EM coverage, a fishing trip is defined at § 679.2 as the period of time that begins when the vessel leaves a shore-based port or tender vessel with an empty hold until the vessel returns to a shore-based port or tender vessel and all fish are delivered.

How does NMFS select a vessel to use an EM system on a fishing trip?

Once in the EM selection pool and after the vessel has an approved VMP, the vessel operator must register the fishing trip in ODDS prior to departing on that fishing trip.  ODDS will notify the vessel operator when the vessel is selected to use the EM system.

What are a vessel owner’s or operator’s responsibilities while in the EM selection pool?

Vessel owners or operators must maintain the EM system in working order, including ensuring the EM system is powered and functioning throughout the trip, keeping cameras clean and unobstructed, and ensuring the system is not tampered with.  More information about the responsibilities can be found at § 679.51(f)(5).  Additional prohibitions exist to ensure the EM system functions and the data from the systems are usable for fisheries management (see § 679.7(j)).

What happens if an EM system malfunctions?

The VMP lists EM system malfunctions that are considered high priority to the data collection objectives and those malfunctions that are considered low priority to the data collection objectives.  The VMP also provides guidance about the procedures to follow if either of these types of malfunctions are detected.  The regulations describe the responsibilities of the vessel owner or operator in case an EM system malfunctions (see § 679.51(f)(5)(vi)).

If a high priority malfunction is detected during the pre-departure function test, the vessel must remain in port for up to 72 hours to allow an EM service provider time to conduct repairs.  Remaining in port for up to 72 hours allows time for an EM service provider to travel to most remote ports in Alaska and give him or her the necessary time needed to conduct repairs.  If the repairs cannot be completed within this time frame, NMFS will release the vessel from EM coverage for that trip and the vessel operator will be allowed to depart.  However, the vessel owner or operator must repair the malfunction prior to departing on a subsequent fishing trip, and the vessel will automatically be selected for EM coverage for that fishing trip.

If a low priority malfunction is detected during the pre-departure function test, the vessel operator is allowed to depart on the selected trip as long as the procedures for low priority malfunctions described in the vessel’s VMP are followed.  At the end of the trip the vessel operator must work with the EM service provider to repair the malfunction.  The vessel operator cannot depart on another trip selected for EM coverage with this malfunction unless the vessel operator has contacted the EM service provider.

If an EM system malfunction occurs during a fishing trip selected for EM coverage, prior to retrieving the set the vessel operator must attempt to correct the problem using the provisions described in the vessel’s VMP.  If the malfunction cannot be repaired at sea, the vessel operator must contact the EM service provider at the end of the trip.  The malfunction must be repaired beforEnding a Fishing Trip Selected for EM Coveragee the vessel can depart on another fishing trip selected for EM coverage (see § 679.51(f)(5)).

Ending a Fishing Trip Selected for EM Coverage

What happens when the fishing trip selected for EM coverage ends?

At the end of the fishing trip selected for EM coverage, the vessel owner or operator must close the trip in ODDS and follow the instructions in the VMP.

How does a vessel owner or operator submit a hard drive?

The vessel owner or operator must submit the hard drives to NMFS within 2 business days of completing the fishing trip selected for EM coverage, using a method that requires a signature for delivery and provides notification of delivery.  Additional documentation described in the vessel’s VMP must be submitted along with the hard drives.  Specific instructions for shipping hard drives would be included in the vessel’s VMP (see § 679.51(f)(5)(vii)).

NMFS understands that there may be delays in postmarking a hard drive when a trip ends at a tender vessel or when a vessel ends a fishing trip in a remote port, such as limited post office hours or the availability of a postmaster.  When a fishing trip end at a tender vessel, the hard drive must be postmarked within 2 business days of tender vessel’s arrival in port.  If the fishing trip ends in a remote port with limited postal service or at a tender vessel, the vessel operator must ensure the hard drive and associated documentation is postmarked as soon as possible but no later than two weeks after the end of the fishing trip (see § 679.51(f)(5)(vii)).  If possible the vessel operator should notify the EM service provider of the delay in postmarking a hard drive.

How does a vessel operator obtain more hard drives?

The EM service provider will provide all the vessels with several hard drives at the time of installation for vessels new to the EM selection pool or at the start of the fishing season for vessels with previously installed systems.  Once those hard drives have been submitted, the vessel owner or operator should contact the EM service provider to request more hard drives.

Using EM to Fish IFQ in Multiple Areas

What is the EM exception for fishing Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) or Community Development Quota (CDQ) in multiple areas defined at § 679.7(f)(4)?

A vessel in the EM selection pool, that complies with the requirements of § 679.51(f)(6) and maintains the applicable daily logbook, may retain halibut or sablefish in excess of the total amount of unharvested IFQ or CDQ applicable to that vessel for the IFQ regulatory area in which the vessel is operating and that is currently held by all IFQ or CDQ permit holders aboard the vessel.  If a vessel is not part of the EM selection pool and is not selected for observer coverage for that fishing trip, the vessel owner or operator would continue to be prohibited from retaining halibut or sablefish in excess of the total amount of unharvested IFQ or CDQ applicable to that vessel for the IFQ regulatory area in which the vessel is operating.

Can a vessel owner or operator use EM to IFQ or CDQ under the exception in § 679.7(f)(4) when not selected for EM coverage on a fishing trip?

Yes. Under§ 679.51(f)(6), a vessel owner or operator in the EM selection pool will use ODDS to identify when he or she intends to fish in multiple areas and to commit to using a functioning EM system on the whole trip, even if the vessel was not selected for EM coverage.

Are there additional responsibilities when using EM to fish IFQ or CDQ under the exception in § 679.7(f)(4)?

Yes.  The vessel owner or operator must meet all the same responsibilities as if the vessel’s fishing trip had been selected for EM coverage in ODDS.  Because the EM system in this instance is used as a compliance monitoring tool, some additional requirements apply to the vessel owner or operator.

  1. The EM system must be powered continuously during the entire fishing trip.  The vessel owner or operator may describe in the VMP the alternative methods the vessel will use to show that the vessel has not moved or fished if the vessel owner or operator intends to power down the EM system during periods of non-fishing, such as at night when the vessel crew is sleeping.  These alternative methods could include using a vessel monitoring system or installing a sensor that records when the engine is powered down.
  2. Additionally, if during a fishing trip an EM system malfunction occurred that did not allow recording of essential information about where the vessel was fishing and what amount of halibut or sablefish catch was coming aboard, the vessel operator must cease fishing immediately and contact NOAA OLE.

Would a vessel operator using EM to fish IFQ or CDQ under the exception in § 679.7(f)(4) be required to abandon gear to contact NOAA OLE if an EM system malfunction occurred?

No. There are several ways a vessel operator could use to contact NOAA OLE while at sea.  The vessel operator could use a cell phone or satellite phone.  The vessel operator could also contact the U.S. Coast Guard via VHF or single side band radio to request the Coast Guard to contact NOAA OLE.  The vessel operator should make every effort available to contact NOAA OLE, but if the vessel operator is unable to reach NOAA OLE while at sea, NMFS will not require a vessel operator to abandon fishing gear to return to port to contact NOAA OLE.  The vessel operator must not set additional gear once an EM system malfunction is detected and must return to port immediately if unable to contact NOAA OLE at sea.