In April, our Marine Monitoring Manager Amanda Barney got the enviable opportunity to attend and present at the 7th International Fisheries Observer and Monitoring Conference held in Viña del Mar, Chile. Ecotrust Canada has only recently begun offering fisheries monitoring service provision, but the success of our innovative programs in coastal British Columbia compelled us to attend the conference and share our story.

As a non-profit, Ecotrust Canada offers a unique method of service provision, one that came at the request of harvesters and was developed as a solution to the rising costs of monitoring programs and a way to reconnect local communities with the small-scale fisheries that occur in their waters. We were invited to share the work we have done in both electronic monitoring and with at-sea observers as well as sit on a panel discussing industry engagement in traceability. This conference was a great opportunity to highlight both our monitoring work and Ecotrust Canada’s traceability tool, ThisFish. Read on for a report back from Amanda:

The conference was a coming together of professional fisheries observers, monitoring service providers, fishermen, fisheries scientists and researchers, and fisheries managers from 27 countries around the world. Core themes that came out of the plenary sessions were that trust, communication and engagement of all parties were key to monitoring. Whether it was piloting and implementing electronic monitoring systems in new fisheries, forming partnerships between harvesters and researchers in traditional fisheries, or developing ways to incorporate harvester collected data into management, having honest dialogue between groups and transparent systems were touted again and again as the means to having successful fisheries monitoring and observing. The flip side to that coin was that these key means to creating good monitoring were frequently lacking in North American and European programs and management systems, as well as in large-scale international fisheries occurring in the open ocean. Some exceptions to this were seen in Norway with their index fleet and in Scotland and the Netherlands were harvesters and researchers have taken the initiative to work together to improve monitoring.

The shared conversation left me excited about the forward direction of international fisheries monitoring work. I was able to fully engage in conversations with groups from around the world about the work we do since these recurring themes are the very foundation upon which our organization builds its work. The monitoring programs we are running in British Columbia are a result of harvester’s requesting an alternative approach, and we strive to offer affordable monitoring options and help to facilitate better working relationships between harvesters and regulators. Hearing about the successful use of harvester-collected data in artisanal fisheries in South America and the Caribbean can help add weight to ongoing conversations with our fisheries regulators about methods of data collection in North America and how to incorporate harvester collected data into decision making. Learning about the tools used in other countries and about successful partnering between harvesters, monitoring service providers and research institutes will help us develop ways to validate data collected by both observers and harvesters, again helping to move along our national dialogue around fisheries monitoring and potentially reduce monitoring costs.

Another theme that came up repeatedly at the conference, especially from delegates from outside of North America, was that recognizing peoples’ connection to the resource was key to the creation of successful fisheries monitoring programs. By understanding the value of fisheries and fishing culture and tradition, researchers, service providers and managers were able to better engage with harvesters and create support and buy-in for monitoring programs. The value and importance of people in place is at the core of Ecotrust Canada’s problem solving, and the development of place-based solutions so that people can continue to lead successful lives in their traditional territories and coastal communities is what our work aims to accomplish. It was wonderful to receive the validation from this international conversation that the way we do this work reflects best practice. There was a huge amount of interest in the monitoring and observing work we are doing in British Columbia as well as for our incredible traceability system (ThisFish), which is being used by harvesters, consumers and retailers across Canada with huge success.

This conference left me bolstered by the fact that we are one of only a few groups currently engaging in monitoring in the way that is recognized as the most useful to traditional, artisanal and small-scale commercial fisheries occurring in national waters. It is also a method of engagement that recognizes the importance of these fisheries to local communities and cultures, and creates relationships between harvesters, managers and researchers. This is how Ecotrust Canada strives to go about our work and it was so inspiring to find like-minded folk from around the world who recognize that more programs need to be built on these foundations.