U.S. North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program
Changes to Funding and Deployment System
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council and NMFS continued developing an analysis for a fishery management
plan (FMP) amendment to restructure the funding and deployment systems in the Observer Program to better ensure ongoing
collection and quality observer data. The FMP amendment has several fee options. These collected fees combined with
possible federal dollars would allow NMFS to contract directly for observer services. The FMP amendment also includes
a new deployment structure which would do away with the current 0%, 30%, and 100% observer coverage categories. Vessels
and shore plants would be required to carry observers when they were provided by NMFS. NMFS would determine when and
where to deploy observers based on data collection and monitoring needs.
The alternatives within the analysis of the FMP amendment consist of various combinations of vessels and shoreside
processors in both the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands. The Councilís Observer Advisory Committee (OAC)
is currently wrestling with many questions and issues pertaining to the various alternatives. Discussions at the OAC
meeting in March 2004 centered on the problems associated with simultaneous operation of two separate observer funding
and deployment systems (old and new) and the so far unknown costs associated with observer compensation and overtime
pay under federal contracts. The Council added two more suboptions to the analysis at its June 2004 meeting. Review of
the initial draft analysis by the Council is currently scheduled for October 2004.
Increase in Debriefings
Fifty percent of the observer debriefings in the first 6 months of this year have been conducted at the Observer
Programís Anchorage office. This represents a 10% increase over previous years. Observer providers make the decision
to debrief an observer in either Seattle or Anchorage, so this increase is under their control alone. This increased
level of debriefing coupled with over 50% of observer training and briefing occurring at the University of Alaskaís
Observer Training Center in Anchorage indicates the importance of the Observer Programís presence in Anchorage. The
presence of Observer Program staff in Alaska with offices in Anchorage, Dutch Harbor, and Kodiak has become increasingly
important for the overall success of the Observer Programís mission.
The Department of Commerce Office of Inspector Generalís Office of Inspections and Program Evaluations (OIG)
completed a review of 7 of the 14 Observer Programs in the United States including the North Pacific Groundfish
Observer Program. The final report was made public in March 2004. The review was meant to determine whether the
seven observer programs are meeting data collection needs, how NMFS ensures that observer data is of high quality,
and how well the programsí missions and objectives are communicated.
The findings and directions of the OIG were that NMFS 1) should explore ďbestĒ data quality assurance practices
across programs; 2) needs to ensure that the vessel selection processes used to place observers on ships result
in data that is representative of the fishing effort; 3) needs to take actions to help maintain an experienced
corps of observers; 4) should measure and monitor performance across all programs in order to improve regional
observer program accountability; 5) should develop a national outreach strategy to better communicate the mission
and goals of the observer program to the fishing industry.
The complete report can be found at
By Bob Maier
AFSC Quarterly Research Reports Apr-June 2004