OCEAN CITY — When the longline on the Sea Born is engaged, which is most of the time when it’s out in the Atlantic, two video cameras record everything on the deck and side of the boat.
The cameras look familiar, black half-orbs like the ones commonly seen taking security footage. But they’re not at a mall or a bank, they’re on Capt. Kerry Harrington’s boat, which is his home for days at a time when he is out fishing.
The technology is required for highly migratory species, such as tuna, swordfish, sharks and billfish. It was installed to verify what fishermen are reporting when it comes to things such as discarding dead fish are accurate.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the cameras are triggered when gear is being hauled back, and the cameras are placed strategically on boats to record the footage of gear being retrieved and fish being caught.
Still, to Harrington it feels like Big Brother is watching.
“You can imagine the intrusiveness of it,” he said. “Under the microscope all day long.”
The new requirement started in June for pelagic longline fishermen.
The cameras do a job on-boat observers have usually performed, allowing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to cover more ground by providing fleet-wide coverage. A contractor reviews the video tape to make sure it is consistent with what the anglers report.
“NOAA Fisheries needs an effective and efficient way to monitor,” public affairs officer Kate Brogan said.
Having an observer aboard every vessel would be prohibitively expensive, along with the logistical issues of having another person aboard a boat. The cameras aren’t replacing in-person observers, but they do supplement coverage.
The enhanced reporting measures aren’t the only regulation that concerns Harrington. At the end of June, the commercial Atlantic dolphin fishery, also known as mahimahi, was shut down. Commercial fishermen reached their limit of 1.2 million pounds, which is significantly smaller than the recreational limit of 14.2 million.
To Harrington, this is disproportionate.
“This would have been the best year of mahi fishing that we ever had,” he said.
The Atlantic Fishery Management Council is currently developing an amendment to modify that proportion, according to its website.
If these things were happening at the state level, the issues of commercial fishermen in Ocean City would be a prime subject for Gov. Larry Hogan’s newly formed Regulatory Reform Commission, which is looking into Maryland regulations that are bad for business. This is not the case, however.
Still, there is a place for the state to work with the federal government to support the industry.
“If our state could go to bat for us, that would be great,” Harrington said.
Rep. Mary Beth Carozza, R-38C-Wicomico and Worcester, has been in contact with commercial fishermen, and she has heard similar complaints about the cameras and the mahimahi limits. While she said the governor’s commission is focusing on state regulations, she does see opportunity for the state to work together with local and federal officials to enact change.
Earlier this year, Carozza helped facilitate a meeting between fishermen and Army Corps of Engineering officials, resulting in an agreement to do emergency dredging in the Inlet and investigate the cause of the problem.
“If it’s negative impacting our Maryland commercial industry, we want to see how we can work with our federal partners to improve the situation,” she said. “My experience has been that we at the state level can be advocates to work on behalf of the local commercial fisherman to impact changes that are needed.”