Fishing is a $200-billion industry in the United States, providing 1.7 million jobs. The economically important Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Fishery includes more than 890 commercial reef fish permitted vessels and comprises 31 species managed using Annual Catch Limits. Objective, scientific data are necessary to ensure the fishery’s health, but currently, the NOAA Fisheries Observer Program is only able to monitor about 2% of vessels’ fishing effort in the fishery.

To complement this important program and fill monitoring gaps—a need emphasized by federal fisheries managers and the commercial industry—the independent, nonprofit Mote Marine Laboratory operates the Center for Fisheries Electronic Monitoring at Mote (CFEMM).

CFEMM is the only program dedicated to developing and assessing electronic monitoring (EM) technology as a tool in the Gulf of Mexico commercial reef fish fishery to better meet the demand by industry and management for accurate, independent data to ensure long-term fishery health.


What CFEMM Does: “Eyes on the Gulf”

CFEMM is the lead in advancing electronic monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico’s commercial reef fish fishery through strategic partnerships with the fishing industry, management organizations, an EM equipment and software provider, and various other stakeholders.

Volunteer commercial bottom longline and vertical line fishing vessel owners and captains partner with CFEMM scientists and Saltwater Inc., an EM equipment and software provider based in Anchorage, Alaska, to have specialized cameras, a computer processor, and sensors installed on their fishing vessels. These systems record the trip length, speed, hydraulic pressure, location, and fishing events (sets, soaks and hauls) on a timeline. Video recordings (with no sound) are reviewed confidentially by the CFEMM Team to document fishing effort, total catch and bycatch of species per event and trip, species kept/discarded, species disposition at capture, including depredated (damage by predators) catch, and discards.

CFEMM scientists analyze the collected data to demonstrate and improve the available technology and data products—including much-needed bycatch and discard data—for improving management of the valuable Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Fishery.


Data Highlights & Vessel Coverage



Data Dissemination

Commercial Fishermen – We prioritize disseminating data to our vessel participants by offering statistical and spatial analysis products. Some of these include hotspot maps to show where targeted fish are caught, as well as areas where unintended catch (bycatch) and high discards occur. These maps also help identify areas where fish predators (depredators) have been active, aiding fishermen in adopting sustainable fishing practices. (Click here for an example of a NEW Interactive Tool). Grouped species-specific data products are also provided to fishing industry organizations.

Fisheries Management – We provide grouped species-specific data products for consideration by the SouthEast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR), a cooperative process by which stock assessments are conducted in NOAA Fisheries’s southeast region (See, Working papers). Project updates and data summaries are also provided to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and other state, federal, and independent organization stakeholders (Below: Summary Data booklet).

Screenshot of sampled pages of a CFEMM report
Screenshot of sampled pages of a CFEMM report


Advancing EM and filling fishery data gaps through integration of innovative tools

First underwater camera and deployment device integrated with an EM system to identify the species of large sharks released while underwater near the vessel. This was also an asset for documenting shark sex, size range, and fate. (Below Left and Middle: sandbar shark; Right: Great hammerhead shark).

First discard chute applied on a Gulf commercial fishing vessel in partnership with the NOAA Alaska Fishery Science Center. The device captured video of undersized red grouper as they passed through the chute; and individual fish measurements were obtained by an automated software algorithm developed by the University of Washington. (Below Left: mounted discard chute; Middle to Right: algorithm obtaining  measurements of red grouper discards as they pass through the chute)

Left to right: Portable electronic monitoring unit case with processor and monitor, GPS, cameras, marine battery, a SeaSucker vacuum camera mount
Left to right: Portable electronic monitoring unit case with processor and monitor, GPS, cameras, marine battery, a SeaSucker vacuum camera mount

First trials of a SWIM-Mobile portable EM system, developed by Saltwater Inc., Anchorage, AK, designed for easy transfer and use on multiple types of vessels. The system was successfully deployed on a Gulf charter for hire and a recreational fishing vessel to collect fish catch and discard information, and soon will be used on South Atlantic recreational anglers boats, with focus on providing data on red snapper bycatch.

Roof boom-mounted stern cameras on bottom longline vessels, was used as an innovative approach to expand views of the area behind vessels to improve documentation of the short-term survival of discarded fish, including observations of whether fish swam down, floated away, or became prey for predators. (Below Left: roof boom-mounted stern camera; Right: discarded red grouper and bottlenose dolphin interaction)

Thousands of electronic monitoring captured species images were provided to partner CVision AI, Boston, MA to use in developing cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) catch detection algorithms. These are designed to accurately identify catch events and shark discards, significantly reducing video review time and enhancing overall efficiency. (Below: example of an AI algorithm tracking [note the box] a yellowedge grouper as it is hauled onboard a bottom longline vessel)

Partner commercial fishermen collected, marked, and provided 262 fish from 24 data poor species for the CFEMM staff to obtain length measurements and extract otoliths ‘ear bones’ and fin clips. Samples were provided to NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Panama City, FL and Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi for age determination and genetic profiling. Each fish was also linked with its respective EM documentation, including capture location. Fishermens contributions will enhance our understanding of these species’ populations and characteristics. (Video and photos: collecting otoliths “ear bones,” from different reef fish species; example of otoliths collected from a wenchman snapper and a yellowedge grouper)

Addressed an industry gear specific question regarding the impacts of different hook sizes on fish selectivity, particularly focused at reducing bycatch and subsequent discards of non-targeted fish. Documentation through EM video enabled scientific evaluation of the fish species that were caught by the different hook sizes. Detailed analysis shed light on the effectiveness of different gear configurations in mitigating bycatch. (Below Right: painted leader clips to indicate hook size for video review; Left: two evaluated hook sizes,13/0 and 15/0)

Examining a management strategy called “Optimized Retention”, specifically targeting species with high discard mortality rates, like small red grouper. This strategy entails granting fishermen with an federally issued Exempted Fishing Permit the ability to retain these smaller size fish. Collaborations with Fish House managers will assess the marketability of selling these previously discarded fish. This innovative approach has potential to benefit both industry and fisheries management by reducing discard mortality rates and potentially generating additional revenue streams for industry through the sale of previously discarded fish. (Below Photo: undersized red grouper tagged at capture by the fishermen to link individual fish with their EM capture data)

Developed cutting-edge methods for automating the creation of hotspot fishing maps and fishermen’s personalized trip data summary reports. These data product tools are provided to stakeholders including industry and management to improve decision-making processes. Through automation, we are significantly improving efficiency, accuracy, and timeliness of accessibility of crucial information for informed decision-making by stakeholders. (Below: Bycatch Hotspot Map of incidental sandbar shark captures)

Learn More about CFEMM