In New Zealand, a Lone Boat Is a Pilot Project
Chris Rodley - Snap Information Technologies Ltd.
Snap Information Technologies Ltd.
Current Issue
Parent Article

A brave new maritime initiative has launched in New Zealand. The Electronic Monitoring fisheries program is the very first in the world to establish a more transparent conversation between the fishing industry and the public over how fish are caught, handled, and managed.

And now, EM provider Snap Information Technologies has installed hardware on FV Chips, a small inshore fishing vessel run by Karl Warr. The SnapIT technology utilizing AI, by monitoring what is happening on the boat, is able to categorize vessel activity and, eventually, distinguish the size and species of the fish caught.

Life-long commercial fisherman Warr believes transparency is essential for consumers to make informed choices. In his view, people should know how their fish is caught so their purchases reflect their values and choices. So, he became the first in the world to provide a transparent view of commercial fishing by streaming his on-board camera live on the internet. It’s a real-time view of the fishing activity on his vessel and shows customers how the fish on their plate originated.

Motivated to provide genuine insight into how the seafood we eat is produced rather than painting a less realistic picture (or rather than painting a more idealistic picture), the skipper of FV Chips wants people informed before they decide what they purchase.

The innovator recognizes we all have a role to play in the sustainable harvest of the seafood we love to eat. From the fishing boat to the kitchen table, we must ensure everyone understands how the choices they make impact the sustainability of our fisheries. When a consumer is informed, they’re empowered to make choices that either reward or penalize fishermen based on their purchase. Together, we are collectively responsible for securing and ensuring environmentally respectful fishing practices. We all live with the consequences of food production, good or bad, for a very long time depending on our actions and purchases.

We anticipate both the fisherman and the public will benefit from increased transparency and proof of sustainable practices through this innovative live-streaming project, which started December 15. Warr will be able to demonstrate the increased value of his fish because he’s operating ethically and sustainably.

By live-streaming his catch he is able to establish trust and demonstrate his fish are harvested with care. Ultimately, all consumers, from the homemaker to the high-end eatery, can control their purchasing options. As the data will be available to everyone, all will have the opportunity to shape the market through supply and demand.

This initiative is not a standard EM program. Normally, an EM program only provides video and sensor data for auditing and enforcement of catch limits and safe, legal fishing practices. In a standard EM program the biggest cost is human reviewers watching the video. This video is usually transferred from the vessel via the swapping of physical harddrives to be viewed in the SnapIT cloud service by fishermen (as the data is rich with business intelligence), but also provisioned to governments or third-party review services. The new SnapIT system is able to transmit that data using cutting edge compression technology via cellular LTE networks when the vessel sails into range.

The project with FV Chips is a huge departure from a standard compliance-focused EM program. It is the first to attempt to engage and educate the public in real-time.

The SnapIT system consists of cameras and sensors and AI-optimized hardware on board vessels and allows the wireless transmission of data for compliance, interactions with protected species, and catch discharge. The system also provides protection for those who are following ethical fishing practices, giving an impartial record of activity and events. Finally, EM has considerable value for fishermen in planning and business intelligence. It is exciting to see this technology begin to be used for adding value to a fisher’s operation.

To experience the live-stream, visit

Drop in EPA Enforcement Statistics: Is Glass Half Empty or Half Full?
Ethan Shenkman - Arnold & Porter
Arnold & Porter
Current Issue
Ethan Shenkman

Andrew Wheeler remarked during his confirmation hearing for EPA administrator that there has been “a lot of misleading information” suggesting the Trump EPA is not enforcing the nation’s environmental laws as vigorously as previous administrations. He said the agency opened more criminal cases in 2018 than it had in the previous year. He also referenced the Trump EPA’s focus on compliance rather than enforcement as an explanation for the downward trends, which he asserted does not mean that environmental laws are being ignored. “I think the more compliance assurance that we have, the fewer enforcement actions we need to take.”

Wheeler was responding to critics who have cited fewer inspections, fewer investigations and enforcement cases, lower amounts of penalties collected, and a significant number of enforcement staff who have left the agency over the last year.

For example, a recent report by the Environmental Integrity Project finds that, while EPA’s referral of 123 civil enforcement cases to the Justice Department in FY 2018 was slightly up from 2017, it was quite low compared to the past two administrations. The annual average was 211 under President Obama and 304 under President Bush. The watchdog group further found that the agency’s recovery of $69.5 million in total civil penalties in 2018 was “the lowest in both actual and inflation-adjusted dollars since at least 1994.” As for criminal prosecutions, while EPA opened 129 criminal cases in FY 2018, up from 2017, EIP claims that “the number of criminal cases opened and the number of defendants charged dropped in 2017 and 2018 to their lowest levels in nearly two decades.”

Susan Bodine, assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, disputes the validity of statistics that focus only on a “narrow set of parameters” and which fail to credit efforts to ensure facilities comply with environmental laws, including cases where EPA is involved but states take the lead. “I want everyone to understand that these measures do not adequately represent the progress and the results that we are achieving in EPA’s enforcement and compliance assurance program,” she says.

Among other things, she refers to instances where EPA pressured states to force companies to address violations, noting that these successes are not captured in EPA’s statistics. She also says it is misleading to make comparisons with past years that involved unusually large settlements, such as that following the Deepwater Horizon incident. “It is not statistically valid to imply a trend by averaging an outlier value with other values.”

In the view of Cynthia Giles, who directed OECA under Obama, the data send a different message. “It tells me that they are backing away from doing the biggest, highest impact cases,” Giles told the Washington Post, “and those are the most important for protecting public health, and they’re the cases the states can’t or won’t do.”

Meanwhile, in its 2018 Year in Review, EPA says its enforcement activities have led to “almost twice” the amount of waste disposed of or treated in 2017, the report contends. “The focus on these areas has resulted in larger, more complex cases with greater reductions in pollution.” The agency also says that the number of facilities that voluntarily disclosed violations and certified a return to compliance increased 47 percent from the previous year.

Where does the truth lie? Has more enforcement activity shifted from the federal to the state level, or has there been a net decrease in enforcement? Has EPA’s shift in emphasis to compliance assistance achieved results, either in terms of reduced violations or better environmental outcomes? Or, as its critics claim, has the change in enforcement philosophy eroded deterrence? Environmental practitioners are experiencing déjà vu, harkening back to a similar debate under the George W. Bush administration.

Whatever the numbers signify, attorneys in the trenches have observed that what their clients value above all is certainty and a level playing field, where strong compliance programs are rewarded and other companies do not gain competitive advantage by cutting corners. Environmental commentators have also cautioned that large swings in enforcement trends may only be temporary, with backlashes possible from future administrations.

More analysis is soon to come. EPA’s inspector general is comparing the agency’s rates of enforcement between 2006 and 2018. The IG will be examining the key factors explaining results stemming from enforcement actions, across EPA regions and environmental statutes. And the Government Accountability Office has launched an investigation into EPA’s compliance program, analyzing how the agency’s law enforcement responsibilities are changing and whether it has adequate staff to carry them out.

The IG and GAO reports could add clarity to these competing statistics.

Drop in EPA enforcement statistics: Is glass half empty or half full?

Pesticide Compliance in the Cannabis Industry
Date Released
April 2019

In recognition of the numerous sustainability challenges linked to cannabis cultivation, the Environmental Law Institute’s Innovation Lab teamed up with pesticide law and cannabis law experts to create multiple educational brochures demystifying the confusing regulatory landscape of pesticide use on cannabis. Make sure to check out our other brochures: The History of EPA’s Regulation of Pesticide Use on Cannabis; Pesticide Use in the Cannabis Industry.

Community and the Rule of Law
Lois Schiffer - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2010-17)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2010-17)
Current Issue
Lois Schiffer

TESTIMONY ❧ In her address to the 2017 graduates of Vermont Law School, the honorary degree recipient declared that in “these troubling times, standing on the common ground of protecting the environment is an excellent way for professionals to work to resecure our democracy.”

Climate Drones
James Satterlee - Stinson Leonard Street LLP
Stinson Leonard Street LLP
Current Issue
Climate Drones

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW REPORTER ❧ The unmanned aircraft phenomenon is just starting to catch on in the area of environmental monitoring and enforcement. There is immense potential for using drones to maximize an operation’s efficiencies while also reducing its environmental impact.

Dockside Enforcement Vital for Enforcing Catch Share Systems
June 2012

(Washington, DC) — Environmental Law Institute (ELI) staff today published a study in Marine Policy providing quantitative evidence that the introduction of catch shares for fisheries management results in significant changes to enforcement practice and compliance behavior. Catch share programs are replacing effort-based fisheries management because they provide fishermen with incentives to support sustainability.