Electronic Reporting and Monitoring in Fisheries: Data Privacy, Security, and Management Challenges and 21st-Century Solutions

Date01 July 2019
Reporting and
Monitoring in
Fisheries: Data
Privacy, Security,
and Management
Challenges and
by Monica Medina and Scott Nuzum
Monica Medina is the founder, publisher, and CEO of Our
Daily Planet. She previously served as the Principal Deputy
Undersecretary of Oceans and Atmosphere in the U.S.
Department of Commerce from 2009-2012, and as a Special
Assistant to the Secretary of Defense from 2012-2013. Scott
Nuzum is Of Counsel in the Washington, D.C., oce of
Van Ness Feldman, LLP. He previously worked at the White
House Council on Environmental Quality (2009-2012)
and the U.S. Department of the Interior (2012-2014).
As human populations have more than doubled since
1960, pressure on wild sh stocks has increased dra-
matically. is Article argues that the establishment of
an electronic reporting and monitoring regime in U.S.
sheries is both necessary to ensure compliance with
statutory imperatives to manage them according to best
available science, and essential for continued long-term
viability of the U.S. shing industry. While privacy
issues pose some challenge to adoption of emerging
technologies, these are not insurmountable, and gener-
ally can be addressed with existing legal mechanisms
and commonsense improvements to regulation.
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is
going to get better. It’s not.
—Dr. Seuss, e Lorax1
e damage caused by ove rshing extend s beyond the future
prospects of all of us to eat seafood, and beyond the sur vival
of the particular sh or seafood stock that we harvest. . . .
ere is also heavy d amage to marine habitats, notably to
the seabed by trawler s and to coral reefs by dynamite and
cyanide shing. Finally, over shing damages shermen, by
ultimately eliminating the basis of their livelihood and cost-
ing them their jobs.
— Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies
Choose to Fail or Succeed 2
Since time immemorial, humans have relied on the
bounty of the oceans for sustenance. Over the course
of the past 164,000 years, many societies have relied
on wild-caught sh and shellsh a s either a primar y or sec-
ondary protein source.3 rough most of human history,
humanity’s relationship with the ocean has been a sustain-
able one—debits drawn from the ocean were more than
justly oset by the fecundity of the species consumed.
In just the past 50 years, however, Homo sapiens have
had a profound impact on the ability of sheries resources
to renew themselves. As human populations have more
than doubled since 1960, pressure on wild sh stocks has
increased dramatically.4 is population boom, coupled
with the emergence of other environmental stressors (e.g.,
habitat loss, water quality impairments, etc.) and new sh-
ing technologies allowing for massive catches in even more
inhospitable conditions, has led to the collapse of a number
of important species on which humans historica lly relied.5
In turn, shing eets have been forced to venture further
oshore in order to nd new species to harvest so as to
meet consumer demand.6
1. D. S, T L (1971).
2. J D, C: H S C  F  S
480-81 (2005).
3. See John Noble Wilford, Eating of Shellsh Linked to Survival of Early Man,
N.Y. T, Oct. 17, 2007.
4. See, e.g., D, supra note 2, at 479 (noting that “[w]hile seafood con-
sumption is high and rising in the First World, it is even higher and rising
faster elsewhere, e.g., having doubled in China within the last decade” and
noting that “[f]ish now account for 40% of all protein (of both plant and
animal origin) consumed in the ird World and are the main animal pro-
tein source for over a billion” people in Asia).
5. See id. at 480 (noting that “the majority of the world’s commercially impor-
tant marine sheries have either collapsed to the point of being commercial
extinct, or have been severely depleted, are currently overshed to the limit,
are recovering only slowly from past overshing, or are otherwise in urgent
need of management”).
6. See generally P G, F F: T F   L W
F (2010).
Copyright © 2019 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®, http://www.eli.org, 1-800-433-5120.
7-2019 NEWS & ANALYSIS 49 ELR 10671
More recently, thanks to improvements in sheries
science, management, and recordkeeping, a number of
countries—including the United States—have come to
understa nd the profound ly deleteriou s impact t hat over-
shing has had on sh stock s.7 Many countries when faced
with rapidly declining stocks have taken steps to curb
overshing through enactment of complex management
regimes, which established permitting and quota systems.
In the United States, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Man-
agement and Conservation Act (MSA) has ser ved as the
national framework under which American (and foreign)
shers must operate in U.S. waters.8 W hile the MSA has
certainly helped to reduce overshing in U.S. waters, U.S.
shery resources stil l could be better managed —particu-
larly when it comes to data gathering, stock assessments,
monitori ng, a nd enforcement.
e current U.S. monitoring regime is handicapped by
a dearth of up-to-date information related to the quantity
and location of catches and bycatches. e lack of qual-
ity data, in turn, compromises the qua lity of shery man-
agement plans (FMPs) and means that federal regulators
cannot meet the mandate outlined in the MSA to base
conservation and management measures on the best scien-
tic information available.9
Part of this problem stems from antiquated reporting
protocols, whereby shers self-report required informa-
tion using pen-and-ink logbooks that are then transmit-
ted to regulators after a shing trip. is procedure means
that data are often unreliable and “stale” from a dynamic
management perspective by the time they a re forwarded to
regulators. Additionally, the MSA imposes stringent con-
dentiality requirements, which arguably have impeded
eective management and tra nsparency at the expense of
the protection of allegedly condential business informa-
tion and proprietary data. Final ly, individual shers them-
selves have resisted more modern reporting and monitoring
procedures out of a fear that new systems wi ll constitute an
invasion of their personal privacy, since they live for days or
weeks at a time on their vessels when at sea.
Fishing as a business has bec ome increasingly indust rial-
ized in recent years, with signicant improvements in both
the safety and eciency of shing. e management and
reporting of shing catches, however, has remained solidly
in the 20th (or even the 19th) century, making it impos-
sible to report the chain of custody and traceability of sh
catches either precisely or in real time. Nevertheless, t he
archaic data system s and management practice of the sher-
7. See D, supra note 2, at 480 (“Among the most important sheries
that have already collapsed are Atlantic halibut, Atlantic bluen tuna, At-
lantic swordsh, North Sea herring, Grand Banks cod, Argentine hake, and
Australian Murray River cod.”).
8. 16 U.S.C. §§1801-1891d.
9. See id. §1851(2).
ies sector may actually prove to be an advanta ge. While the
dearth of qualit y data is certainly a problem, it also presents
a tremendous opportunity to modernize sheries mana ge-
ment in exciting ways that are unencumbered by newer but
now fading data-gat hering technologies and systems.
To date, the U.S. shing industry has not seen deep
penetration of emerging technolog y inputs into t heir
operations. us, the incorporation of a range of technolo-
gies—from electronic reporting and monitoring devices
to predictive big data analytics—has the potential to radi-
cally transform both the rapidity and accurac y by which
regula tors manage the  sheries and the met hodologies that
shers utilize to har vest the resource. Further, incorpora-
tion of electronic monitoring devices into shing vessels
themselves has the potential to tra nsform the vessels into
giant sensors capable of collecting a range of environmenta l
data—data t hat could ultimately prove as valuable as the
sh themselves and that could ma ke shing an even more
ecient and sustainable business for the long run.
is Article argues that the establish ment of an elec-
tronic reporting and monitoring regime in U.S. sheries
is not only necessary to ensure compliance w ith statutory
imperatives to manage them acc ording to best available sci-
ence, but also essential for the continued long-term viability
of the U.S. shing industry. Simply put, implementation of
electronic reporting and monitoring in sheries manage-
ment presents an unparalleled opportunity to tr uly achieve
maximum susta inable yield. As climate cha nge, increased
consumer demand, and other pressures continue to tax
already strained resources, electronic reporting and moni-
toring and associated big data ana lytics will allow ma nagers
to respond in real time to both enable sustainable harvest
of sheries resources and alleviate pressure on sh stocks
to allow them appropriate time to recover from man-made
and environmental pressures. ese technologies are not
expensive and can more than pay for themselves and even
create new jobs and commercial opportunities to use the
data in marketable ways.
Of course, incorporation of electronic reporting and
monitoring will lead to some fundamental cha nges in
how regulators, shers, and the general public conceive of
sheries data and privacy. While these issues pose some
challenge to the adoption of emerging technologies in the
shing industry, they are not an insurmountable barrier to
change, and generally c an be addressed with ex isting legal
mechanisms and commonsense improvements to regula-
tion. Moreover, there are ways that the shing industry can
mitigate unintended consequences and capitaliz e on les-
sons learned from other industries that have undergone the
big data revolution sooner.
Part I of the Article provides necessa ry background,
including an overview of sheries general ly, a summary
Copyright © 2019 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®, http://www.eli.org, 1-800-433-5120.

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