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FMA History

Foreign Fishery 

Japan initiated a fishery for yellowfin sole in the eastern Bering Sea in 1933. This fishery continued until 1941 when it was terminated by the outbreak of World War II. Japanese fishing vessels returned in 1954 and were joined in 1959 by fishing vessels from the former U.S.S.R. During the 1950s and 1960s, the number of participating vessels increased and began targeting other species and exploring new fishing areas. Flatfish were the principal targets of the Japanese and Russian fleets during the '50s and '60s. By the mid-1960s, after a decline in flatfish stocks, both Japan and Russia began targeting walleye pollock. During the late 1960s and early 1970s vessels from other countries began fishing in the eastern Bering Sea including; Taiwan, the Republic of Korea, and Poland.

photo of foreign fishing vesselThe National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) began placing observers on foreign fishing vessels operating off the northwest and Alaskan coasts of the United States in 1973, creating the North Pacific Foreign Fisheries Observer Program. Initially, observers were placed on vessels only upon invitation by host countries. In the early years of the program the primary purposes of observers were to determine incidental catch rates of Pacific halibut in groundfish catches and to verify catch statistics in the Japanese crab fishery. Later, observers collected data on the incidence of king crab, snow (Tanner) crab, and Pacific salmon, and obtained biological data on other important species. Following the implementation of the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, which mandated that foreign vessels accept observers, observer coverage greatly expanded.

In 1978 American fishers began fishing for groundfish in joint ventures with foreign processing vessels. By 1986 all nonjoint-venture foreign fisheries were halted, and by 1991 all foreign fishing within the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska was terminated.

Domestic Fishery

photo of domestic fishing vesselNMFS began placing observers on domestic vessels in 1986. This was in support of an industry-funded data gathering program on domestic vessels fishing in an area of the Bering Sea north of Port Moller where bycatch of red king crab was of concern. Other small-scale domestic observer programs were implemented during the late 1980s.

The 1988 amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) required vessels in fisheries identified as having frequent interactions with marine mammals to carry observers for 20-30 percent of their fishing days. In August 1989 NMFS began placing observers aboard these vessels through Federal funding. Also in 1989, the groundfish management plans for the Gulf of Alaska and eastern Bering Sea were amended to establish mandatory observer coverage requirements for vessels and plants involved in the groundfish fishery in these areas. Those amendments require vessels 125 feet or longer to carry a NMFS-certified observer 100 percent of the time while fishing for groundfish; vessels 60-124 feet long to carry a NMFS-certified observer during 30 percent of their fishing days in each calendar quarter of the year in which they fish more than 10 days; plants processing 1,000 or more metric tons in a month to have an observer in the plant each day they process groundfish; and those processing 500-1,000 metric tons to have observers 30 percent of the days.

The North Pacific Observer Program was implemented in early 1990. Under this program, NMFS provides the operational oversight of the program, certification training, definition of observer sampling duties and methods, debriefing of observers, and management of the data. Although the vessel and plant owners pay for the cost of the observers, the costs associated with managing the program are covered by the Federal Government.

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