Project Title:

Oceanographic and fisheries data collection and telemetry

from commercial fishing vessels

Funded by the National Ocean Partnership Program

15 July 1998 - 14 July 1999

The NOPP Partners

Ann Bucklin and Rollie Barnaby (University of New Hampshire Sea Grant)

Program coordination; Partnership building with coastal resource agencies; Outreach to commercial fishermen; Placement of data server; Portland fishing vessel demonstration

Chrys Chryssostomidis and Cliff Goudey (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sea Grant)

Onboard sensor system; software customization

Peter Wiebe, Dave Hosom, Hartley Hoskins, Bob Groman (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Coordination with ocean research community; Consultant for software customization; Data telemetry; Data management and distribution.

Gary Williams (Clearwater Instrumentation, Inc.)

Design of portable sensor system; integration of sensors

Craig Pendleton (Portland Fish Exchange)

Shore-based data distribution; Placement of a data server; Use of telemetered data in marketing.


This partnership between oceanographers, engineers, private entrepreneurs, commercial fish harvesters, and federal agency representatives will develop a system to collect, telemeter, analyze, assimilate, and distribute high-quality, synoptic environmental (hydrography, meteorology, biology) data from the coastal ocean. The data will be integrated into the U.S. GLOBEC database, which is a distributed data management system with open access via the internet. In addition, assessments of fish stocks and proprietary fisheries catch data will be collected and distributed to some partners, and incorporated into some data sets, as appropriate. The goal is to create shared, real-time data management systems that may be used by any individual, program, or agency for a wide variety of purposes: research, education, assessment, management, marketing, regulation, modeling, and/or prediction. The significance of this project lies both in the integrative functions, aimed at uniting these distinct constituencies into functional partnerships for data collection and information exchange, and in the technical functions, aimed at producing an integrated sensor system for deployment on commercial fishing vessels. [A Progress Report through December 2000 is available.]


There is a need for much better information on weather, sea-state, oceanographic conditions, commercial harvest data, and fishing conditions in the coastal waters of the US. This information is required by the fishermen themselves, resource managers and regulators, and the oceanographic research community. Currently, these data are collected during oceanographic research efforts, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) assessment surveys, operational Navy activities, and National Weather Service coverage. These types of activities cannot provide synoptic coverage of large regions and rarely employ near-real-time telemetry. The widespread temporal / spatial distribution of commercial fishing vessels makes them ideal platforms from which to gather basic information for coastal monitoring, modeling, and prediction. The use of fishing vessels as platforms has been limited to date because of very limited cooperation between the fishing community, government agencies, and the ocean research community.

This effort will work toward building full cooperation among the commercial fish harvesting community, federal and state coastal resource managers, private industry, and the ocean research community for the collection, distribution, analysis, and assimilation of environmental data collected by commercial fishing vessels. This work addresses needs identified in the recent NOAA report, Setting a New Course for U.S. Coastal Ocean Science, which stated that coastal ocean science efforts need to support "strategic issues cutting across the missions, responsibilities, and capabilities of many federal agencies", and named four strategic issues of highest priority: 1) restoring and protecting coastal ecosystems, 2) sustaining coastal resources, 3) ensuring national defense, and 4) integrating priorities. All of these strategic issues entail a predictive ecosystem focus and require an expansion of multi-agency efforts, in order to deliver the best current information and also to ensure the continual improvement in the quality and flow of that information.

The same NOAA report, Setting a New Course for U.S. Coastal Ocean Science, emphasized the "strong need to better coordinate federal activities in coastal ocean science with those of state and local governments, academia and industry". The report states, "The information needs reflect the diverse decisions required for management of the coastal ocean. These decisions involve managers at all government levels as well as businesses, investors, and residents. The decision makers include emergency/disaster management officials, planners, coastal zone managers, fishery managers, port captains and managers, and local zoning officials." The diverse needs for high-quality, geographically-comprehensive environmental data in the coastal ocean can best be met by integration of existing data-collection capacities, as well as the development of new sources of information which can be added to this growing network.


Goal 1: Develop a collaboration between commercial fishermen, private marine industries, oceanographers, and coastal resource managers for the collection, real-time telemetry, analysis, assimilation, distribution, and use of environmental and fisheries data from coastal regions off the northeastern US.

UNH/UM Sea Grant Extension will hold a series of informational meetings to inform members of the fishing industry about the scope and goals of the proposal effort. Input from the industry will be sought on all aspects of the work, including design of the sensor system and user interface, types of data to be collected, and uses of environmental and catch data for improvement of fishing practices and product marketing. Meetings will be held in: Pt. Judith, RI; New Bedford and Gloucester, MA; Portsmouth, NH; and Portland, ME.

UNH Sea Grant will also host a series of five one-day workshops, seminars, and symposia for federal and state agency and program representatives involved in environmental assessment, coastal resource management, marine policy, navigation and public safety, and regulatory and/or enforcement aspects of resource management. The goal of the workshops is to identify common informational needs, overlapping areas of interest and/or concern, and opportunities for shared stewardship among all constituents.

Goal 2: Design and produce an integrated sensor system (including navigational, hydrographic, and meteorological components) for use onboard commercial fishing vessels; assemble, integrate, and test prototype versions of the system on a small number of vessels; establish land-based centers for collection, analysis and assimilation of data.

The on-board subsystem will provide enhanced navigation functions, make continuous meteorological and oceanographic measurements, and allow entry and transmission of confidential fisheries catch data. The subsystem will consist of environmental and vessel-status sensors, transceiver (T/R) subsystem, GPS receiver, and a microprocessor controller. The subsystems will be developed from "off the shelf" products and subassemblies requiring only modification, programming, and packaging for sea-going use (Figure 1). A key part of the NOPP system development is to ensure that approaches for hardware flexibility and growth are provided to allow continued system improvements and upgrading with advances in emerging technologies.

The project will also develop a rugged sensor unit to facilitate subsurface measurements for deployment on fishing gear. The gear-based sensor unit will provide a time series of temperature vs. pressure and will be designed to withstand the rigors of use in a commercial fishing setting. Currently-available conductivity sensors will be assessed to determine whether any will meet the demands of accuracy and ruggedness required for gear-based use.

The data telemetry and data serving hardware and software required for data collection and dissemination will be designed and implemented. The data from a variety of meteorological and oceanographic sensors, as well as fisheries catch data, will be collected by the vessel and periodically telemetered from the vessel via a low bandwidth connection.

Two prototype sensor systems (i.e., on-board NOPP subsystem, gear-based sensor package, and software) will be fabricated and bench-tested to facilitate program de-bugging and ensure proper function before deployment. After the laboratory tests, the sensor systems will be installed on two commercial fishing vessels: one Gloucester-based coastal vessel and one Portland-based offshore vessel will be used for the sea tests and demonstration.

Goal 3: Demonstration of system feasibility and function: The demonstration phase of this project will involve one-, two- or three-day trips by the two commercial fishing vessels.

The demonstration will include performance of the entire system, including integration with standard vessel navigation and electronic functions, coordination with the NMFS Vessel Monitoring System (VMS or "black box"), telemetry of environmental data to the U.S. GLOBEC Program Service and Data Management Office, and exchange of confidential fisheries catch data between the vessels and their home ports, the Gloucester Fish Auction and the Portland Fish Exchange.

Follow-up outreach efforts will evaluate the responses of the vessel captains and the personnel of the Auction and Exchange who oversee product marketing efforts. Additional interviews will be conducted as needed to explore uses of real-time telemetered catch and market data to improve fishing practices and optimize marketing strategies.

For additional information, see About Our Project

Last modified: November 28, 2001