2008 Annual Report
Gulf of Maine Research Institute
Spotlight on Science

GMRI offers high tech solutions to improve trip reporting

Somewhere in the Gulf of Maine, a fisherman steams home after a long trip. He grits his teeth as he digs his pen into another Vessel Trip Report (VTR), pressing hard enough to reach the numerous carbon copies. The boat pitches and rolls while he attempts a steady hand. Every trip is recorded, and reports are sent in each month to be manually entered into a database at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

Somewhere at the NMFS offices, a worker sits in front of a pile of VTRs. She struggles to read a fisherman’s writing as she sifts through seemingly endless reports, some dated weeks ago.

Dr. Steve Eayrs, Gear Technologist for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) and his team are developing an Electronic Vessel Trip Report (eVTR) to replace the current paper logbook system. Their goal is to offer a faster and more accurate means of reporting catches.

Jon Loehrke, Collaborative Research Technician for the project, has been working to deploy prototype electronic logbooks to determine what an effective eVTR would look like for both fishermen and managers.

Currently, many commercial fishermen are required to possess a vessel monitoring system (VMS)—more commonly known as a “black box”— that constantly logs their position. Fishermen are also required to report prior to a trip, to let NMFS know that they will be fishing, what they are fishing for, and their estimated time of arrival to offload. Messages are relayed via the satellite modem within the VMS system, such as SkyMate, Boatracs, or Thrane & Thrane. They send an email-type message through the satellite, and receive an approval notification that the message has been logged. This satellite then tracks the vessel’s position throughout the trip.

An eVTR would interface with the current system. A fisherman could report activity quickly and easily while he’s fishing, with the click of a button. The screen-shot shows an example of what the interface would look like at sea using the FishTrax Onboard logbook. The window in the upper left allows the fisherman to choose gear type and target species. Location, date, and time are loaded directly from a GPS.

Clicking “OK” would bring up another window (middle) where the fisherman quickly types in poundage of each species retained and discarded, and clicks save. The information is stored on an electronic log that builds over the duration of the trip. When the trip is over the log is double-checked and submitted.

With the current VTR fishermen often wait until the trip is over to fill out their logs. Landed poundage is usually quite accurate, but discards may be loosely estimated. With an eVTR, all retained and discarded fish could be recorded soon after their catch. This would greatly improve accuracy and give managers a better idea of what is coming out of the ocean.

The exchange of information would be fast, accurate, and in a form that managers can easily analyze. If data from a specific area is needed to determine a new management strategy, it’s at their fingertips and not in a filing cabinet—and it’s current.

“An eVTR would provide real-time data directly to managers,” said Loehrke. Managers could then allocate to different areas based on effort. It would enable them to track possible environmental effects, based on what gear type is being used in certain areas.

In an age of high tech fishing electronics, an eVTR has been a long time coming. Eayrs and Loehrke have been working closely with a handful of New England fishermen from Port Clyde, Maine to Gloucester, Massachusetts to test different versions new software to find the best and easiest-to-use interface.

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