How BC’s crab fishermen became world leaders in sustainability.

How BC’s crab fishermen became world leaders in sustainability.

The Dungeness crab fishery in BC has many regulations and sustainability measures in place that helped to land its OceanWise recommended status. Managed by the 3-S management model: Size, Sex and Season, only male crabs of a certain size are harvested (allowing for 1 year of sexual maturation before harvest). There are also strict rules regarding trap limits, gear marking, and gear sizing and captains maintain daily catch logs that are submitted at the end of each month.

On top of all of that, starting in 2006, a new requirement was made by the federal fisheries department for full at-sea coverage (either by at-sea observer or electronic monitoring systems) to more accurately monitor crab fishing activities. Area A (in Hecate Strait) on BC’s North Pacific Coast had already been using electronic monitoring (with 100% video coverage) since 1999. They were the first fishing fleet in the world to trial the new technology (with Archipelago Marine). In 2006 when the new regulations came in, an electronic system (without video) was implemented in BC’s other 6 crab management areas by Pacific Coast Fishery Services. The crab boats in these other areas were much smaller and required a less power-intensive EM system.

Since then, the BC crab fleet has been continuing to help develop and pioneer one of the most advanced fisheries monitoring systems in the world.

The electronic monitoring systems work like this:

 All crab gear used by harvesters is marked with an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chip, either in the buoy or attached to the trap depending on what area they fish in.  When the trap or buoy is hauled onboard the vessel, the RFID chip attached is scanned and synced with the vessel’s current position. Combined with continuous video surveilling of the fishing deck, this data is archived on the vessel until it returns to port or is back within cell range.  After the data is delivered to the service provider, it’s run through spatial analysis software.  The analysis consists of looking to verify that every crab vessel is fishing the correct amount of traps, not fishing in closed areas, only fishing during openings, etc. Reports and summaries of these data points are then created and sent to DFO management.

 Each management area has their own independent third-party monitoring service to provide data to federal fisheries officers, paid for by the fishermen themselves.

Ecotrust Canada (in partnership with Teem Fish Monitoring) works with the Area A crab fleet in Northern BC and Pacific Coast Fishery Services services all of the other 6 crab management areas. Both organizations offer fleet-wide video and vessel tracking, as well as at-sea observers who collect biological data on the fishery. Combining biological data, spatial fishing effort and the captain’s logbook data ensures that accurate information is available to be used for socio-economic and biological decision-making, and confirms that all fisheries regulations are being followed by each vessel.  

By voluntarily adopting and helping to pioneer the electronic monitoring system, BC’s crab fishermen are a beacon of environmental stewardship, demonstrating a firm commitment to ensuring the long-term integrity of their local marine ecosystems which are the lifeblood of their industry. Their innovative approach and early adoption have paved the way for other fisheries around the world to be able to achieve the same level of transparency and accountability. 

Electronic Monitoring in fisheries worldwide from 1999-2018.
Number of fishing vessels with electronic monitoring by region, 1999-2018.

This project is supported by the BC Government’s Buy BC Partnership Program; delivered by MNP LLP with funding from the Government of British Columbia.