OPINION

New era for Gulf charter fishermen: Modern data collection will improve our fishery | Guestview

The Destin Log

This year, as we federally permitted for-hire captains gear up for the fishing season, our boats will be sporting some new electronics that will be used to monitor catch and effort in our fishery.

For decades, our industry has been asking for more timely, accurate and reliable catch data. Thanks to the implementation of a new program, the Southeast For-Hire Integrated Electronic Reporting Program (SEFHIER), we will finally enter 21st century management. This program is the first of its kind in the nation – where a recreational for-hire fishery will be required to supply reporting on every trip that they make.

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The landings that we report will get used to better predict our season lengths (rather than using outdated projections) and incorporated into stock assessments. It will give us a chance to help stabilize inconsistent season lengths to make our business models more predictable for our anglers. It will help us crack down on illegal charters that take away from our hardworking legal operations. And economic data will assert the value of our industry and can be used for aid when dealing with disasters and economic hardships.

Leaders in the for-hire sector (charter and head boats) have been asking for improvements to data collection for years. With the implementation of this program, we are on the verge of a revolution in data collection that can be used to make better management decisions. In the past, for-hire data was collected either by a telephone survey, a mail-in survey or a paper logbook and that data was then estimated. Our fishing seasons have been partially based on landings estimates from these antiquated methods. While these surveys give a starting point for estimating our landings, they are limited and require managers to reduce our landings to account for uncertainty in our harvest and how fast we catch it. Fishermen want more precision in our management. These new logbooks will give us that. We want the ability to supply accurate data to the agency, rather than relying on estimated projections, because we know that better data means better predictions for our seasons and helps establish better stability for our businesses.

For-hire fishermen worked closely with National Marine Fisheries Service to develop electronic data reporting methods and to determine how to confirm the accuracy of reports (data validation). When we looked for other programs to model from, we realized that no one had developed as sophisticated of a program as we desired and needed. This is truly the first program of its kind for charter captains, so we worked with the agency to develop the most efficient and scientifically rigorous system, while also keeping it cost effective and user friendly for fishers. To prove the trip happened as reported, there were two choices for validation: 1) an army of port agents to be physically present at the dock to validate all aspects of the data from each and every trip, or 2) electronic reporting. It’s faster for me to report my landings electronically than have a dockside meeting and it is a lot more cost-effective. As for the concern of privacy, which we do not take lightly, the liability is minimal from the management side. The equipment only sends a “ping” update of your location once an hour. It’s a small price to pay to elevate our accountability and stewardship.

This was a big change for our industry. We knew there would be a lot of questions, challenges, issues, and even some resistance. For this reason, the Charter Fisherman’s Association (CFA) started an initiative called the Port Ambassadors. This is a Gulf-wide network of fishermen helping fishermen in their home ports and acting as liaisons with the agency to implement and improve the SEFHIER Program. We answer questions from the industry and help relay messages, but we also test units and provide feedback to the agency and vendors to make sure things work smoothly. This program has been a huge success and has greatly improved the implementation of this new and innovative electronic logbook program.

The new electronic reporting program refines the data collected and gives charter captains the ability to contribute to a more robust picture of landings and effort data. Fishermen are now at the helm of data collection in our sector, and this is a powerful place to be. It is our hope that this program displays a level of accountability and stewardship for other sectors and regions around the nation to use as a road map to improve their data collection.

Thank you,

Capt. Jim Green

President

Charter Fisherman’s Association (CFA)

Destin Charter Boat Association (DCBA)