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The UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) wants to bring remote elecronic monitoring (REM) to UK fisheries, and has launched a consultation on its plans, which would see installation of REM equipment become compulsory in 5 key fisheries over the next 5 years.

REM systems include cameras, gear sensors and GPS units. The technology will be used to gather data on the activities of fishing boats at sea, including the quantity, size and species of fish caught, as well as information on bycatch of sea birds, whales and dolphins.

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Defra wants to bring key fisheries “online” within the next five years, including all pelagic trawling over 24 metres, demersal seines and trawls, and fixed and drift net fishing.

REM necessary for “data-led fisheries management”, says UK government

According to Defra’s consultation document, the information collected will be used for “data-led fisheries management decisions” to help the fishing industry in sustainable management of stocks. The proposal also foresees providing “greater confidence” to consumers and retailers on the sustainability of fish caught in UK waters.

“Within Europe, implementation of remote electronic monitoring is being considered by the EU Commission and remote electronic monitoring programmes are being developed by a number of nearby coastal states,” Defra said.

“We want the UK to be in the vanguard of this work, leading and shaping how remote electronic monitoring is deployed in both our waters and waters with shared stocks.”

The proposals to roll out REM in UK fisheries are being introduced alongside UK policy reforms such as the new Fisheries Management Plans and a new approach to managing discards.

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Technology works, but implementation “complex” and comes with a price tag

In the consultation, Defra notes that a number of other methods are already used to collect data on fishing activity, including logbooks, sales notes, onboard observers, onshore data collection, Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) and fisher driven data collection and science partnerships.

However, it argues, REM is “the next step for enhancing data collection”, delivering “robust information” that can support successful reforms to fisheries management.

“It is clear that the technology works, but its implementation can be complex and challenging,” the consultation notes.

Part of the challenge comes from the costs, Defra admits.

“We acknowledge that the costs of remote electronic monitoring and potential funding
options are of concern for some fishers whose vessels will be affected as well as for the
organisations collecting, storing and using the data.”

According to the consultation document, the cost for hardware and installation on a single vessel ranges from £6,138 – £10,5214, while annual maintenance costs between £438 – £2,192.

Consultation on REM open until 9 October

The following fisheries are proposed for REM implementation over the next 5 years:

  • Pelagic Trawls over 24m in length fishing in all English waters.
  • Demersal seines (flyseines) fishing in English waters of the Southern North Sea and English Channel.
  • Demersal trawls using mesh sizes of up to 120mm (targeting nephrops) fishing in English waters of the North Sea.
  • Fixed and drift nets (gill and trammel nets) fishing in English waters of the Celtic Sea and English Channel.
  • Demersal trawls, including beam trawls, fishing in English waters of the Celtic Sea and English Channel.

The consultation will run for 12 weeks from 17 July 2023 to 9 October 2023, and can be accessed via the Defra website.

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