ASMFC taking comments on electronic boat tracking plan

BAR HARBOR — The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is accepting public comment on a plan that would create an electronic tracking system for lobster boats in federal waters.

The tracking system would collect spatial and temporal data that, at one-minute intervals, would report where a boat is in time and place. The real-world information would be sent back and analyzed by ASMFC to assess the overall effort in the federal American lobster and Jonah crab fisheries for management and enforcement needs.

These data, according to the ASMFC, are needed to improve stock assessment, inform discussions and management decisions related to protected species and marine spatial planning and enhance offshore enforcement.

It also could help record exactly how much area the U.S. lobster fishery covers as officials look at the expanded use of aquaculture, protected marine areas and offshore wind energy.

The ASMFC is composed of the 15 states from Florida to Maine that touch the Atlantic Ocean and is tasked with protecting and managing marine fisheries within the states’ jurisdiction.

A pilot program was conducted from June 2019 to May 2020 to test different electronic tracking devices in various conditions. The devices were placed on volunteer vessels from Maine to Massachusetts.

The project evaluated the technologies by looking at ease of compliance (or noncompliance), ability to determine trap hauls from steaming activity, industry feedback, cost per fisherman and law enforcement feedback.

While all trackers tested were able to deliver the required data, cellular-based devices proved most effective and had a lower cost overall. The devices were found to work both in and out of cellular range. When a vessel is out of range, data is stored and then transmitted once service is available.

As for cost, the cellular tracking devices tested during the pilot program ranged from $150 to $650 for the initial purchase of the tracking unit, and annual data service plans that would meet the proposed tracking requirements ranged from $191 to $420 per year.

Location data was collected at a minimum rate of one ping per minute for at least 90 percent of a fishing trip. According to an ASMFC report, “A ‘ping’ refers to a data event created by a tracking device containing the device’s current datetime, latitude, longitude, device/vessel identifier and other optional data fields.”

With one-minute intervals, scientists are able to distinguish lobster fishing activity from other activity, such as traveling between trap lines, and can also estimate the number of traps per trawl.

To read the full report, go online to

Public comment will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Jan. 31 and should be sent to Caitlin Starks, FMP Coordinator, 1050 N. Highland St., Suite 200 A-N, Arlington, VA, 22201; (703) 842-0741 (fax); or by email at [email protected] (subject line: Lobster Draft Addendum XXIX).

For more information, contact Starks by email at [email protected] or by calling (703) 842-0740.

Faith DeAmbrose

Managing Editor at Mount Desert Islander

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