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Guest Column: Controlling your fishing data equals power

Fiona Hogan, RODA research director

The installation of offshore wind energy (OSW) facilities is fast becoming one of the biggest concerns for the fishing industry throughout the nation. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has leased over 3,500 square miles of seafloor off New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and California, with the potential for additional leases totaling 2,700 square miles off Oregon and the Mid-Atlantic. Within a few short years, BOEM plans to hold OSW auctions for waters in the Gulf of Maine, Gulf of Mexico, and Hawaii. Multiple aspects of these projects pose a risk to fishing operations, including construction of the turbines, installation of cables, vessel traffic, and induced environmental changes.

It is imperative for the fishing industry to be well represented by data to identify potential conflicts and to assist in the design of OSW mitigation measures. Fishermen hold extensive knowledge about marine ecosystems as well as valuable confidential business information, but translating this into “data” to inform the government raises multiple challenges. Some of these include lack of standardization, limited opportunities to assist with data interpretation (i.e. to provide input or explain fishing patterns), risk of government misuse, and low spatial resolution of federally mandated data.

The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) was established in 2018 by fishing industry leaders from Maine to North Carolina. We are a broad membership-based coalition of fishing industry associations and fishing companies committed to improving the compatibility of new offshore development with their businesses. Our membership has grown to over 200 members who make their living from the harvesting and shoreside components of seafood production.

RODA created the Fisheries Knowledge Trust (Trust) in 2020. The Trust’s objective is to enable fishermen to use their information to participate in regulatory processes by providing researchers with trusted access to confidential information collected by the fishing industry.

By streamlining the way members of the fishery manage their data and by maintaining explicit control over its use, the Trust makes it possible for researchers, policy makers, and fishing industry leaders to access crowd-sourced datasets and qualitative insights they need to answer some of the hardest questions about our changing oceans. A critical feature of the Trust is its governance structure, which ensures any fishing industry participant that has incorporated data into the Trust maintains control over that data.

The Trust recently completed a series of pilot projects funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. These studies collected fishery-dependent data from members of the herring, mackerel, surfclam, and ocean quahog fisheries and successfully incorporated them into an independent, standardized database of participants’ vessel trip report, vessel monitoring system, dealer, and observer data. Fleet participants were able to explore overlap of their operations with proposed OSW development.

The Trust will next work on an additional pilot project focused on the Maine lobster fishery. Given the lack of fine-scale spatial data, the lobster project will focus on developing a standardized procedure for constructing accurate spatial and temporal representations of the Maine lobster fishery using the data and knowledge of individual fishermen. The proof of concept will be developed through direct collaboration with lobstermen in partnership with the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and UMaine’s Lobster Institute, and under the governance structures of the Trust.

This project will assess Olex and Time Zero navigation system formats, collect data from volunteer lobstermen, collaboratively develop data product models, anonymize individual fisherman’s data, and develop and evaluate data aggregations at different levels of spatial and temporal granularity. This project is in the beginning phase and is expected to be completed next year.

RODA’s intention is to ensure the longevity of the Trust and make it an essential tool available for all aspects of fisheries management. Once fishermen’s data are incorporated into the Trust, it can be analyzed (with permission) as part of stock assessments, fishery management decisions, and OSW planning and impacts.

Contact the MLA for more information on Maine's Project: 207-967-4555

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