» Skills » Monitoring Monitoring | Ecotrust Canada

The Quinault Indian Nation’s Dungeness crab fleet consists of 25 vessels that deploy approximately 10,000 crab traps per season. The fleet has recognized the need to track fishing activity, and specifically track location of traps for both retrieval of derelict gear and to try to reduce the occurrence of gear tampering. Coupled with an industry-wide recognition that fishing has become more difficult due to environmental and enforcement issues, these fishermen are embracing a new type of data collection that can help them manage these challenges. The Quinault are leading the drive for better and more transparent data collection in Washington State’s Dungeness crab fishery.

US fisheries policy encourages co-management of fisheries with native tribes at both the state and federal levels. Our electronic monitoring emphasizes data accessibility, providing the Quinault with information they can use to better carry out this co-management.


Quinault EM docks   Quinault EM screen


Electronic monitoring data is helping to track crab pot deployment numbers and locations, limit illegal activity, and gain more information about crab population trends and movements.

As strings of traps are set and retrieved, an onboard scanner reads an RFID chip that has been embedded in marker buoys. With each scan, our computer also records time, location, and gear data, giving fisheries managers an unprecedented look at crab fishing locations, effort, enforcement, and biology.

Three Quinault vessels piloted the program in 2014. One year later, the whole Quinault fleet is sporting Ecotrust Canada’s EM boxes, and they’re hoping non-Native commercial crab fishermen will join them in their push for greater transparency and accountability.

Learn more about our Electronic Monitoring program here.

Classes are led by Ecotrust Canada staff with extensive knowledge and skills in species identification, fish management objectives and fundamentals, fishing methods, and catch monitoring methods, roles, and responsibilities. As many of our trainers were once Observers themselves, they are familiar with the equipment, data collection methods, and best practices for working on fishing vessels and docks.

Since Ecotrust Canada is also actively working as either a service provider or in the role of business or policy development consultant in fisheries around North America, our trainers are also well-versed in current fisheries-specific management objectives and national fisheries regulations.


Community Benefit

Our training programs reinforce and continue to build local fisheries knowledge and capacity, with the goal of meeting the ongoing and future needs of First Nations, DFO, and the fishing industry.

Our experience working with these groups has informed the design of our training methodology and curricula; our courses meet DFO’s national standards and the fisheries specific requirements, as well as those of various First Nations fisheries programs.


Training for Other Needs

Observer training spans a wide range of fishery-related topics. The 11-day Comprehensive Course in particular has been used as a broad training base for current and prospective employees in a number of other positions:

  • First Nations Guardian Watchmen
  • Resource Management Staff
  • DFO Staff
  • First Nations Fisheries Technicians


Available Curricula

There are two different types of Observer Training Courses:  an 11-day comprehensive course designed to give students a solid foundation in fisheries monitoring and management and a 3-day fishery-specific training module designed to qualify students for employment as fishery Observers.

DFO requires a number of other certifications as a condition of employment. These certifications are not offered by our courses, but we can help students apply for them.


11-day Comprehensive Course

The 11-day training course takes place over the course of two weeks. The first week of the training course serves as an introduction to fish biology and fisheries management by addressing the following subjects:

  • Fisheries Management, Acts and Regulations
  • Catch Monitor/Observer Programs, roles and duties
  • Data collection and note-taking
  • Vessel types and fishing operations
  • Seabird and marine mammal classification
  • Vertebrate and invertebrate species identification
  • Fish classification and use of dichotomous keys
  • Rockfish and mackerel identification
  • Use of dissecting/sampling equipment and biological sampling methods (what, why, how) including:
    • Scale and DNA samples
    • Parasite samples
    • Fin ray & otolith removal
    • Aging structures
    • Length & weight measurements
    • Sex determination
  • Types of tags used in fisheries
  • General catch monitoring and estimation
  • General dockside weigh-out procedures
  • Chart reading and navigational understanding
  • Water sampling techniques
  • Navigation and weather

The second week of the course shifts to a more practical understanding of fisheries management and monitoring by covering the following topics:

  • Traceability, Mark Recovery, and Creel Survey Programs
  • Selective Fishing Methods
  • First Nation fisheries co-management and monitoring programs
  • Vessel Safety and etiquette
  • Hands on training
  • Fisheries Specific data collection and recording techniques

The second week also includes a field trip day so students are able to see fish plant and fishing vessel operations first-hand. During the trip, students gain hands-on experience with species identification and the use of scales, and get an opportunity to view different gear types. This field trip acts as a link between the general training and fishery-specific training.

Throughout the training course, students have the opportunity to seek out additional tutoring from Ecotrust Canada instructors, ensuring that all students gain the knowledge they need to succeed as fisheries Observers. The day before the final exam, training staff host a half-day tutorial/study session so that interested students can review any material as needed. An open book exam at the end of the 11-day course acts as a review and helps to prepare students for the DFO-moderated exam at the completion of training.


3-day Fishery Module

This course is designed for training individuals to become At-Sea and Dockside Monitors for a specific fishery. Course modules can be added to customize course curriculum. A salmon training course, for example, might include:

  • Salmonid life cycle and species ID
  • Salmonid dissection w/ external and internal anatomy
  • Use of dissecting/sampling equipment and biological sampling methods (what, why, how) including:
    • Scale and DNA samples
    • Parasite samples
    • Fin ray & otolith removal
    • Aging structures
    • Length & weight measurements
    • Sex determination
  • Fishery-specific vessels and fishing operations
  • Fishery-specific catch monitoring and estimation techniques
  • Fishery-specific dockside monitoring procedures


Certification Series

DFO designation requires that Observers hold a number of additional certifications. While Ecotrust Canada does not offer these training programs, we will work with individuals and groups in order to help them get access to these courses. These certifications include:

  • Basic offshore survival techniques training course approved by Transport Canada
  • Seafarers Medical Course with certificate
  • First Aid Certificate
  • Maritime Radio-Telephone Operators Restricted Certificate


Final Outcomes

The completion of either the 11-day or 3-day training course with a passing grade of 75% or higher will qualify students for Designated Observer status, and along with successful completion of required certifications will make them eligible for employment as Fisheries Observers.

Fisheries monitoring may seem like an odd pursuit for a charity, but this work has proven again and again to fit the mission of Ecotrust Canada. Not only is accurate and timely data collection an essential part of achieving environmental sustainability in the commercial industry, but working as a third party to industry and regulators allows the sharing of information regarding resource health with all users.

Through our work with fishermen in coastal communities, we’ve realized that developing locally-based fisheries monitoring programs is a prime opportunity for improving local economic sustainability.


Community Benefit

Our industry, community, and First Nations partners highlighted a need for better fisheries infrastructure in coastal communities. Our Observer programs fit into our suite of locally-led monitoring, compliance, and traceability initiatives.

Community-based Observer monitoring brings a host of benefits, including:

  • Providing employment for local residents
  • Building local fisheries expertise
  • Building local capacity to engage with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in other monitoring, compliance, and traceability opportunities
  • Establishing a working relationship between DFO, First Nations, Industry, and local residents

To date, the majority of our Observer-based work has been in partnership with First Nations and other communities adjacent to fishing areas. These partnerships allow us to offer training programs and monitoring services throughout coastal BC, building a pool of locally-based Observers who can monitor the waters they know best.


Industry Benefit

Typical Observer monitoring programs can cost a fisherman tens of thousands of dollars each season – a real make-or-break expense for a struggling enterprise. By employing local Observers, fishermen:

  • Don’t have to pay for technicians to be flown in
  • Keep money in their own communities
  • Build local industry support
  • Keep local fisheries knowledge alive and well


At-Sea Observer Program

We are a DFO-designated At-Sea Observer Program service provider for BC’s salmon and crab fisheries. Our Observers come from the communities on whose doorsteps the fishery operates. All Observers are trained and DFO-certified.


Dockside Monitoring Program

We are also a DFO-designated Dockside Monitoring Program service provider for BC’s salmon and crab fisheries. As with our at-sea program, our dockside Observers are fully trained, DFO-certified, and hail from nearby communities.



Biosampling services may be added to any monitoring program as needed. All of our at-sea Observers are trained to collect biological samples if the monitoring program requires it.

In 2012 we began working with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), The Nature Conservancy, and the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association (MCFA) to adapt our existing electronic monitoring (EM) equipment and services for the New England groundfish fishery.

Our goal is to operationalize and refine our EM system to the point that it could either support or replace the US National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) At-Sea Monitor program. If local fishing regulations and program requirements can be easily integrated into current EM technology, the switch to EM could represent a significant cost savings for a struggling industry.

In Year 1, we adapted our EM software and hardware for use on gillnetters and trawlers and sent the system out for trial runs on two MCFA boats. In Year 2 we expanded our trial to seven vessels, collecting a wealth of information on the fleet’s technical needs. Moving into Year 3, we will be exploring further system adaptations based on proposed regulatory changes and pursuing NMFS approval as a designated service provider.

Most EM systems are cost-prohibitive for smaller fishing operations. Seeing the need for a more cost-effective alternative, we developed a system that can be adapted for almost any fishery, with the goal of improving communities’ ability to pursue environmentally and economically sustainable livelihoods.

Our EM system enables more affordable, effective management of fisheries large and small – collecting high quality data, supporting collaborative fisheries management, engaging fishermen in reporting fishing activity and stock status, and promoting socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable fishing communities around the world.



Multiple components form a sensor network on each boat.


Typical installation for an EM system on a vessel with gillnet gear


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.