The National Marine Fisheries Service and partners have initiated or facilitated a number of promising reforms to start addressing these challenges. Building upon and scaling up these efforts is one key way to make progress.
- Regional ‘fishery information networks’ have long sought to lead collaborations across jurisdictional lines to improve data quality and timeliness for use in fisheries management. For example, the Pacific Fisheries Information Network (PacFIN) has been operational since 1981. On the Atlantic Coast, the implementation of an Atlantic Coastal Data Warehouse, and near universal electronic dealer data collection, are examples of important progress these regional programs have spearheaded or helped facilitate.
- In 2013 NMFS issued a policy directive on electronic technologies and fishery-dependent data collection, followed by a “guidance and best practices” document for integrating electronic monitoring and electronic reporting (EM and ER) in federal fisheries. These steps from agency leadership to encourage adoption of new technologies and share best practices have been important in catalyzing progress on EM and ER in a number of regions.
- In 2013, NMFS began regular program reviews of data collection and management in each region to maintain the agency’s standard of world class science. Experts from within and outside the agency review key programs annually on a five year cycle, and make recommendations to improve integration, identify best practices, and share successes and challenges within the agency’s science enterprise. These reviews have identified challenges with lack of funding, personnel, and the need for improved data management infrastructure and are being used by the agency to drive planning and priorities.
- The North Pacific and Pacific regions, and the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Management Division, have made progress in implementing electronic technology in commercial fisheries management. Considerable effort has been made in Alaska to identify key roles and responsibilities for industry, stakeholders, managers and scientists and involve all parties in the design of an electronic monitoring program to meet management objectives. In the Pacific, the Council is building on successful pilots to implement electronic monitoring for all sectors of the West Coast groundfish fleet. And the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Management Division has deployed EM to monitor Atlantic bluefin tuna bycatch in the pelagic longline fishery. In all cases, the goal is improved and more cost-effective data for management and enforcement.
- In the Gulf of Mexico, the Council is moving to a unified electronic reporting system for recreational for-hire boat logbooks. A pilot project that equipped Gulf headboats with vessel monitoring systems and tablet technology to report catch in real time, and in exchange gave participants the flexibility to fish for snapper and grouper year-round, showed enormous promise. During two years on the water, all participants were able to manage their operations to stay within quotas and precise catch data was transmitted to state agencies in real time. Fishery Management Plan amendments are now pending in the Gulf Fishery Management Council that could extend the headboat pilot model to the region’s entire for-hire fleet.
- A user-centered data visioning process is a best practice for data system design and a key first step. NMFS’ Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office and Northeast Fisheries Science Center, in partnership with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the University of Massachusetts’ School for Marine Science and Technology, undertook a data visioning process in 2014 that engaged stakeholders in identifying a comprehensive set of data and information needs. That vision is informing an implementation program underway through 2017. NMFS’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center undertook a user-centered data visioning process for the west coast groundfish catch share fishery. This public-private partnership between NWFSC and design firm IDEO, supported by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, helped enable changes that reduced catch reporting time from weeks to days.
 National Marine Fisheries Service. 2013. Policy on Electronic Technologies and Fishery-Dependent Data Collection. U.S. Department of Commerce, NMFS Policy Directive 30-133. National Marine Fisheries Service. 2013. NMFS Guidance and Best Practices for EM and ER. U.S. Department of Commerce.