Electronic vessel trackers coming for lobster fishers

Electronic vessel tracking will be coming for lobster fishers. — MV Times

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) announced that all commercial lobster permit holders with a federal lobster trap permit will be required to install a vessel tracking device beginning in the spring. DMF will cover the costs of the first three years for the 300 eligible vessels that fish from Massachusetts ports. 

“We expect to cover the costs of each eligible owner’s purchase, installation, and data plan for around $1,500,” the announcement reads. “Up to five different vendors are expected to offer devices for sale to the industry this winter. Eligible permit holders will be allowed to choose the approved tracking device that best fits their business.” 

The announcement states the devices “require very little power and maintenance,” operating independently, without a reliance on “any external electronics or mobile phone to function.” The trackers will record a position every minute, allowing managers to “distinguish between fishing activity (hauling or setting traps) and traveling to the fishing grounds.” According to the announcement, the devices may use cellular data transmission. If the vessel is beyond cellular service, the device will “continue to record the location data and then upload the data once the vessel returns to cellular service.” 

“Costs from approved systems are intended to be far less than the satellite vessel monitoring systems commonly deployed in offshore federal fisheries such as scallops, groundfish, and surf clams,” the announcement reads. 

The new requirement is from a recent interstate plan addendum “to improve the accuracy of data depicting where and when lobster harvesters fish their traps.” 

“Fine-scale location data [is] critical as lobster fishers face challenges of being displaced by offshore development (wind turbines and aquaculture), and to understanding lobster trap fishing in order to protect right whale aggregations. Also, lobster and Jonah crab stock assessments need more accurate catch locations to attribute landings to each species’ respective stock units,” the announcement reads. The collected data from an individual vessel will be kept confidential, as DMF maintains confidentiality for the catch reports from fish and shellfish dealers.