» Electronic Monitoring in BC’s Area A Crab Fleet Ecotrust Canada
The Area A crab industry on the north-west BC coast is one of the most important and lucrative Dungeness crab fisheries in Canada. To ensure it remains that way, it needs to be effectively managed. In 2010, the Area A Crab Association partnered with Ecotrust Canada to develop an Electronic Monitoring (EM) system that was both cost effective and adaptable to the changing conditions of their fishery.

Commercial crab fishermen have long been committed to using on-board electronic monitoring (EM) as the best means of managing their fishery. EM allows for careful management including trap limits, for monitoring location and for dealing with thefts of product and gear. Our role as EM service provider for the Area A Crab Fishery allows us to support them in remaining sustainable and economically viable. This work is a perfect fit with our mandated vision of supporting community-built solutions that result in more sustainable fisheries. Through our services for and support of communities, First Nations, and enterprises within coastal and rural BC, we are committed to enabling capacity building and expertise.

We bring to our work:

  • Knowledge of the region;
  • Longstanding and trusted local relationships;
  • An innovative, community-based approach;
  • Technical expertise with application development;
  • Truth-tested experience in management of fisheries monitoring and observer programs.

Furthermore, we are committed to providing a system that addresses conservation, industry and Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) needs and concerns. We continue to work closely with fishermen and the Area A Crab Association to improve service delivery and the program itself.

Project objectives

  • To work with Area A crab fishermen to design a system responsive to their needs;
  • To offer a new alternative and increase EM options available to the Area A crab fishermen;
  • To create a system that contributes to the sustainability of the fleet, healthy crab stocks and North Coast communities.

Our approach

We bring to our work in fisheries a unique ‘3E’ approach, partnering with communities to build fishery plans and solutions that consider ‘Economy’, ‘Environment’ and social ‘Equity’. Working on principles that look to ensure
financial, environmental and social health, we offer a full suite of services to coastal
communities who rely on their fishery to provide this health on all three fronts – our aim being to create a shared community vision that focuses on healthy resources; maximum value; equitable access; local capacity; long term sustainability; and environmental and economic success. With regards to our work in EM, building and implementing cost-effective, accessible, efficient marine monitoring systems, these principles translate as working to:

  • Reduce costs and make EM more accessible;
  • Increased functionality and customization of EM systems to meet both fleet and regulatory needs;
  • Remain true to the Ecotrust Canada principle of encouraging and demonstrating information democracy by using open source software.

Our EM solution

Ecotrust Canada’s Fisheries and Knowledge Systems and Planning teams worked hard to develop, build and install electronic monitoring systems for the Area A Crab fleet in time for the 2011 season – and when Area A’s 52 vessels began fishing the waters of Hecate Strait in July of 2011, all were equipped with the new EM systems.
Using open source software rather than proprietary software, our EM system is affordable and accessible, and will help reduce costs over time related to updating/upgrading, maintenance and management. Our ongoing work and support encompasses:

  • Design, development and building of weatherproof EM control box hardware and software;
  • Script development for analysis of recorded data;
  • Development of program workflows and strategy;
  • Sourcing of control box components;
  • Training to assemble control boxes;
  • Installing control boxes in the field, testing, and debugging issues encountered;
  • Onboard observation and assistance;
  • Maintenance issues;
  • Developing database for logbook info;
  • Building and maintaining relationships with the fleet; setting up processes for finances and inventory;
  • Reporting on deliverables to fleet and DFO;
  • Reporting on non-compliance and issuance of compliance notices.

EM system components

Our EM system includes the necessary equipment for collecting video, vessel tracking, hydraulic sensor and trap scan data. Furthermore, in order to save costs for the Area A crab fleet, it makes use of the equipment already owned and in use by fishermen on individual vessels wherever possible. The EM system itself is divided into three components.

  1. Hardware for each vessel: the physical EM system ‘box’ is a small computer that records data incoming from video cameras, RFID scanners, GPS, etc.
  2. Software for recording and reporting: Each vessel’s hardware contains software drivers to  read and compile data into databases on 150 GB hard drives.
  3. Hardware for data management: The hard drives are then copied, removed from the vessel, and studied in Prince Rupert using analytical software that isolates potential compliance issues for review by a trained technician.

The system and accompanying program plan and management services also address DFO requirements, such as:

  • System development and installation;
  • Administration of the program;
  • Providing logistical support for all system operations including maintaining RFID tag registry and replacing faulty RFID tags and other equipment as needed;
  • Providing all data analysis for data collected by EM systems, including necessary GIS systems analysis;
  • Maintaining and submitting regular and final reporting on the data analysis conducted in a pre-agreed upon format as needed by DFO, the Area A Crab Association, and individual Area A crab fishermen;
  • Providing a 24-hour ‘Hail-in/Hail out’ phone service and registry of this information;
  • Key punching data from each vessel’s logbook, and supplying this data to the Shellfish Data Unit.

Best practices

Our EM system is further designed to address the following considerations:

  • Buoy registry: Each trap used in the fishery must be fished separately, and is required to be individually buoyed. Additionally, each vessel is required to have its own identified buoy pattern, approved by DFO. At the start of the season each vessel owner registers their DFO-approved, individual buoy pattern with our Fisheries Program staff who then keep an updated electronic registry of the buoy patterns used by each vessel.
  • Trap limit management: For each season, the maximum area trap limit is distributed amongst the fleet based on vessel lengths. The trap limits for each vessel are managed through the use of RFID tag distribution.
  • Inventory management: We work with vessel owners to inventory the fishing gear they will use for the season, scan the RFID tags in their buoys to ensure they are all working, replace and scan new tags as needed, and collect the data associated with their buoy inventory.
  • Area, time and gear restrictions: When conducting analyses of data collected, we check that each vessel is complying with DFO restrictions for area, time and gear, including use of hoop traps, soft shell opening and closures, and trap limits.


To achieve all our objectives, we brought together a number of people and practices, combining our own technical in-house expertise with feedback from partners for more integrated, supportive systems. By this sharing of fisheries and monitoring knowledge, we have been able to connect the North Coast fishing community to a shared vision of what the conservation economy can look like.

Looking to the future

Having worked closely with fishermen, the Area A Crab Association, and various key partners throughout the successful 2011 season to improve service delivery and the program itself, we will continue to fine tune the system for future seasons. We look forward to learning much from the feedback of fishermen and our various partners, rising to new challenges as we look towards the next season. As part of our work towards designing a community-based approach to sustainable fishing on the West coast of BC, we look forward to sharing both this new EM system and our learnings along the way with others. We hope this new way of doing business on our oceans, demonstrated at the local level, will  provide a blueprint for communities in similar situations.