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Northeast Fisheries Science Center Reference Document 03-07

Implementation of Electronic Logbook Reporting in a Squid Bottom Trawl Study Fleet during 2002

Lisa Hendrickson, David Hiltz, Holly McBride, Barbara North, and Joan Palmer
National Marine Fisheries Serv., Woods Hole Lab., 166 Water St., Woods Hole, MA 02543

Web version posted May 1, 2003

Citation: Hendrickson, L.C.; Hiltz, D.A.; McBride, H.M.; North, B.M.; Palmer, J.E. 2003. Implementation of electronic logbook reporting in a squid bottom trawl study fleet during 2002. Northeast Fish. Sci. Cent. Ref. Doc. 03-07; 30 p.

Information Quality Act Compliance: In accordance with section 515 of Public Law 106-554, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center completed both technical and policy reviews for this report. These predissemination reviews are on file at the NEFSC Editorial Office.

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An electronic logbook reporting system was implemented in a study fleet of commercial vessels that fished for Northern shortfin squid (Illex illecebrosus) during June-September 2002. Project objectives included the design of an electronic logbook reporting system that would fulfill the existing regulatory requirements for logbook reporting and that would improve the resolution, quality and timeliness of fishery data for stock assessments. The data collection process involved at-sea and web-based components. Catch, effort, depth, water temperature and location data were collected in real-time by vessel operators, on a tow-by-tow basis, through the execution of two macros. Data contained in the two macros were transmitted via e-mail to the Northeast Fisheries Science Center following each tow and at the end of each day by a satellite service provider. A Perl script was written to extract data from the e-mails upon their receipt and to load the data into a relational database. Upon completion of a trip, vessel operators logged onto secure, personal web sites that were password-protected and then verified the data entered at sea, assigned tows to specific trips and entered supplemental data required to meet existing logbook reporting requirements. The web site included an interactive mapping program that allowed vessel operators to visualize the spatial distribution of their data and to query their data to produce hardcopy logbook reports. The auditing process relied primarily on error correction by vessel operators during the website data review and entry process, but error checking was also included at the data entry and database processing levels. Squid length and weight data were collected by staff from squid processing plants and subsequently entered into an Oracle database that included links to the tow and catch databases. The study demonstrated that electronic logbook reporting offers an efficient, cost-effective means of collecting accurate, high resolution fisheries and oceanographic data that is useful to fishermen, stock assessment scientists and fisheries managers.


The Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), in cooperation with a study fleet of commercial vessels that participate in the Northern shortfin squid (Illex illecebrosus) fishery conducted an electronic logbook reporting study during June-September 2002. The Illex fishing season generally occurs during June-October and vessels complete approximately three to four tows per day during trips ranging from several days to two weeks (NEFSC 1999). Submittal of hardcopy logbooks, Vessel Trip Reports (VTR), has been a regulatory requirement of the Illex fishery since January 1, 1997 (MAFMC 1996). Logbooks containing data on catch, effort and fishing location must be submitted. A trip is defined as the time between leaving port to fish and returning to port to land the catch. The spatial and temporal resolution of the VTR data is coarse and consists of a single fishing location per subtrip. Separate logbook forms must be submitted for each subtrip, represented by a change in Statistical Reporting Area (Figure 1), gear type, or net mesh size. Fishermen are required to mail their logbooks, on a monthly basis, to a central location where the data are entered into a relational database (Oracle) and audited. Data processing activities and delays in the submittal of logbooks often result in time lags of several months before these data are available to end users.

NEFSC scientists and a portion of the Illex fleet have been conducting cooperative research studies since 1999, involving the collection of tow-based fisheries data on hardcopy logbook forms. Electronic reporting of fisheries data was the next logical step towards real-time data collection for possible use in conducting in-season stock assessments of Illex, which is an annual species.

Project Objectives

Implementation of an electronic logbook system in the Illex fishery was envisaged to improve the efficiency and consistency of data collection and processing and enhance data quality and resolution. Hardcopy data collection is labor-intensive for fishermen and data processing of hardcopy data is labor-intensive for database managers. As well, interpretation of handwritten data introduces potential database error.

The project objectives of the study included the design of an electronic logbook reporting system that would fulfill the existing regulatory requirements for reporting by harvesters in the Illex fishery and which would improve the resolution, quality and timeliness of data available for stock assessments. The electronic logbook reporting system was developed to meet the following criteria:

  1. Improve the accuracy and spatial and temporal resolution of VTR data via the collection of electronic, real-time, tow-based fisheries data.
  2. Provide a secure, web-based system to collect additional data necessary to meet VTR legal reporting requirements and for vessel operators to enter, edit and confirm their personal logbook data.
  3. Sea-based and web-based data collection systems must be efficient, user-friendly and cost-effective for vessel operators.
  4. Provide vessel operators with additional incentives for utilizing an electronic logbook system, such as useful reports and visualizations of their personal fisheries data via secure web sites.


The data collection process consisted of sea-based and web-based components. Error checking occurred during data entry and data processing. Auditing was primarily based on information provided by vessel operators during the web site data collection and verification process. The data flow process is presented in Figure 2.

Real-time Data Collection at Sea

Tow-based fisheries data were collected at sea in real time. At-sea data collection required a GPS satellite service provider (SSP), a marine-quality transceiver/antenna, and hardware with an e-mail capability. A single SSP, which operated in conjunction with proprietary e-mail messaging units, was utilized because most study fleet vessels already possessed this capability. Data collection macros designed by the NEFSC were programmed and uploaded to the vessels by the SSP. Fishermen entered data into two types of macros, a tow macro and a catch macro.  Data were transmitted in real-time to the SSP and then routed to the NEFSC via e-mails.

Study participants were provided with written protocols describing the macro data entry process but received no formal training. The data entry protocol required execution of a tow macro (Table 1) at the start and end of each tow, designated as winch lock and winch re-engage, respectively. Execution of the tow macro automatically generated date, time and location (latitude and longitude) data, as well as a unique vessel identifier (the e-mail messaging unit number). Limited data entry was necessary and included: entering a “B” or “E” to designate begin or end of tow, tow number, depth, water temperatures and a description of any gear problems. Tows were numbered sequentially throughout a trip. If for any reason, the tow macro was not executed at the beginning and end of a tow, Section 2 of the macro allowed for manual entry of the tow number, date, time and location at the start and end of a tow. 

The protocol required execution of a catch macro (Table 2) following the last tow of each day, but prior to midnight, and data entry included the weight of the kept and discarded fractions of the catch listed by tow and species code. In the event that the catch macro was not e-mailed on the date that the catches were obtained, the macro required manual entry of the catch date for each tow, along with the other required data fields in the catch macro.

Database Creation

A Perl script was written to: (a) monitor the receipt of e-mails from the SSP; (b) automatically extract data from the e-mails; and (c) load the raw data into two Oracle tables (a haul table and a catch table). The same script was used to archive the e-mails. The haul table contained two records per tow, designated by “B” and “E”, for begin and end of tow, respectively. The catch table was comprised of one or more species records per tow. The raw data in the two Oracle tables were archived in the form that they were received.

A second set of catch and haul tables was created from the raw data to serve as “working” tables to be updated using information entered or confirmed by vessel operators via secure, vessel-specific web sites. The haul table was created by merging begin and end of tow records from the raw data tables to create one record per tow. Several additional data fields were also created and populated. Statistical Areas were assigned to each tow based on an algorithm that used the vessel position recorded by the satellite at the start of the tow. Fishing effort (i.e., the number of hours fished) was computed as the difference between the time at the end and beginning of each tow.

The catch and haul tables were updated based on vessel operator input submitted to the web site. Additional tables were also created to summarize the haul and catch data in sub trip form. The Oracle database models are presented in Appendicx 1, Appendix 2, and Appendix 3.

The electronic logbook database was also linked to a biological database that contained squid dorsal mantle length and body weight data collected by staff from squid processing plants. The biological database was linked to the haul and catch databases via a unique vessel identifier, tow date and tow number, so that biological sampling locations could be determined.

Web Site Data Collection and Testing

Secure, password-protected web pages were established for each study participant and the web interface program was designed to be accessible through either Netscape or Microsoft Internet Explorer. The web server consisted of a Red Hat Linux operating system, Apache WebServer, Oracle9i relational database, and MapServe interactive geographical mapping software.  The server was positioned in the DMZ (demilitarized zone) of the NEFSC firewall and Oracle tables containing raw data from the catch and tow macros resided inside the firewall on a Sun Solaris server running Oracle 8i (Figure 3).  Perl scripts using DBI (Data Base Interface, a standard database interface for Perl) were used to extract data from the e-mails, insert data into raw tables, merge records, check for errors, and move data across the firewall.  Web pages were programmed using Perl, DBI and CGI (Common Gateway Interface, an interface between the web server and operating system), and JavaScript.  Several logs and security checks were updated thoughout the data collection process.

The web site was designed to minimize data entry time through the use of pull-down menus, check boxes and an option that allowed the user to establish vessel-specific default values for fields that remain consistent between trips. On-line help buttons and bold-faced designations of mandatory data entry fields were added to increase user-friendliness. The web site was designed to lead the user through a logical sequence of steps to generate tow-based data in a format that resembles the current Vessel Trip Reports.

Four options were available to the user from the home page of the Commercial Study Fleet Web Site (Figure 4). The options included: (1) verifying and entering fishery data; (2) interactive mapping of personal fisheries data; (3) creation of logbook data summary reports; and (4) creation or modification of default settings for logbook fields that remain consistent between trips (establishing vessel default values).

The entry of vessel default values (Figure 5) was optional, but because this reduced data entry time it was recommended as the first step upon entering the web site. Thereafter, the user began the process of assigning tows to a specific trip, or editing an existing trip, by selecting the main menu option to “Verify and Enter Fishery Data” (Figure 6). Tows conducted on dates that fell between the entries “Date Sailed” and “Date Landed1” were listed on a subsequent page, with unpaired begin or end of tow records listed within a shaded box located at the bottom of the screen (Figure 7). The user has to edit or delete unpaired haul records (Figure 8) to advance to web pages pertaining to the review and editing of the catch data associated with each tow of the trip (Figure 9). Next, the user enters gear data, if the vessel default settings page was not previously used to enter this information automatically, and then designates the hauls to which the gear data apply (Figure 10). The user is subsequently prompted to partition the amount, by species, of the total trip landings sold to each dealer (Figure 11), thereby producing a landings summary (Figure 12). A final product of the web site is a “VTR Summary Page” that reorganizes the summarized trip data into a format similar to a VTR logbook form that can be printed (Figure 13, Figure 14, Figure 15). The vessel operator selects the “confirm” button on this page to finalize the editing process and to certify that data submitted through the web site are complete and correct. Selection of the “confirm” button implies that the data are no longer available for editing.

A second option available from the main menu of the web site involved interactive mapping and database querying. This program allowed fishermen to visualize the spatial distribution of their personal data (i.e. catch per unit of effort), for any range of tow dates, and to query the database to display information associated with tows that are selected interactively (Figure 16).

A third main menu option allowed the user to create summarized data reports.  This feature allowed the choice of three report types (species, trip or cpue) summarized by date range, month, quarter or year (Figure 17 and Figure 18). 

The web site was tested in-house and recommended modifications were completed prior to website access by the study participants. At the end of the Illex fishing season, the web site development team met to obtain participant feedback regarding web site design and use. Subsequent improvements to the web site were made based on this feedback.


Study fleet participation was lower than expected due to a reduction in the number of vessels engaged in the 2002 Illex fishery. However, the project objectives were met and the proposed products were produced, tested and improved upon based on participant feedback.

Data Collection Costs

The macro transmission cost paid by each vessel operator was approximately $1.00 per tow (which included 50 cents per e-mail transmittal and 0.004 cents per character entered in each macro). The greatest portion of the total cost associated with at-sea data collection, [i.e., the e-mail messaging unit (approximately $6,000) and satellite connection fees ($70 per month)], was subsumed in the existing operating costs of most study fleet participants. At-sea data collection costs borne by the NEFSC included SSP macro programming fees ($90 per hour) and fees for macro uploads to the vessels ($65 per macro upload). There was no data auditing cost.

The study demonstrated that electronic logbook reporting offers an efficient, cost-effective means of collecting accurate, high resolution fisheries and oceanographic data useful to fishermen, stock assessment scientists and fisheries managers. The methods developed in the subject study were designed for implementation in any fishery but training sessions in sea-based and web-based data collection methods would be beneficial to fishermen, in addition to dissemination of written protocols.

Recommendations for Improvements

During 2003, additional testing of the sea-based and web-based data collection systems is recommended to gain feedback from a larger number of vessel operators utilizing additional types of fishing gear.

The macros developed for this pilot project could be redesigned for generic use onboard any vessel that has a satellite service provider and e-mail capabilities. Many vessels have onboard computers but use different satellite service providers. A more versatile, cost-effective means of capturing and transmitting data at sea would consist of macros that are served on the Internet, from a secure web site, and accessed via shipboard computers.

In addition, the following recommendations are suggested for improving future electronic logbook reporting studies:

  1. The creation of a third macro, a trip macro, would allow tows to be combined into trips prior to web site auditing. The trip macro could be e-mailed when the vessel is heading into port, or thereafter, and include the following fields:  date sailed, time sailed, date landed and time landed. Manual entry of the trip data is preferred over simply sending the macro, which could be easily forgotten, to produce a date and time stamp.
  2. Data entry at sea could be minimized further by connecting a vessel’s GPS and gear-mounted sensors to a shipboard computer for real-time recording of output from theses devices.
  3. Training of vessel operators regarding use of the website.

The web-based, fisheries data collection program developed herein could be expanded to include port sample data and dealer purchase data which could then be linked to the electronic logbook database.


This project would not have been possible without the participation of fishermen from the Illex study fleet who volunteered to test the data collection program at sea and whose feedback resulted in an improved product. We are especially grateful to Captain Jimmy Ruhle (F/V Darana R) for his recommendations as a member of the web site development team.


Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. 1996. Amendment #5 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Atlantic mackerel, squid, and butterfish fisheries. 168 p.

Northeast Fisheries Science Center. 1999. Report of the 29th Northeast Regional Stock Assessment Workshop (29th SAW): Stock Assessment Review Committee (SARC) Consensus Summary of Assessments. Northeast Fish. Sci. Cent. Ref. Doc. 99-14; 347 p.
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