The Alaska Fisheries Science Center website is now part of the NOAA Fisheries website.
Some information may not be up to date. Join us at our new location,
Please contact with any questions.

link to AFSC home page
Mobile users can use the Site Map to access the principal pages

link to AFSC home page link to NMFS home page link to NOAA home page

Fisheries Monitoring & Analysis (FMA) Division

AFSC Quarterly
Research Reports
April-June 2006
ABL Reports
FMA Reports
HEPR Reports
NMML Reports
RACE Reports
REFM Reports
Quarterly Index
Quarterly Home

FMA Divisions Works to Ensure Safety of Observers and Staff

see photo caption

An observer practices the correct technique to enter water from a height while wearing an exposure suit.

Operations and Administration

Each year, approximately 400 observers spend a total of approximately 36,000 days at sea collecting data used in managing Alaskan groundfish fisheries. Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis (FMA) staff supplement this work with additional sea time on research cruises. Despite this large volume of deployments, the FMA Division maintains an excellent safety record. However, the sea can be a dangerous work environment.

Recognizing the high potential of danger at sea, safety is a key focus of FMA operations and training. NOAA Fisheries Service now requires all vessels carrying observers to have a current United States Coast Guard (USCG) Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety decal showing that they have passed a dockside safety inspection. Observers are required to review this decal when they board to ensure that it is current and that key safety equipment is still on the vessel. Observers document these inspections and record emergency drills held onboard their vessels using the Vessel Safety Checklist in their logbooks. These measures help to ensure that necessary safety equipment is onboard and increase safety awareness for both the observer and vessel personnel. FMA field office staff provide monthly updates regarding all safety concerns reported by observers. These safety reports allow us to track areas of concern. FMA staff work closely with the NMFS Office for Law Enforcement and the USCG to support activities that promote the safety of fishing vessels required to carry fisheries observers.

Field Operations

Field experiences of observers in this year’s fishery highlight important aspects of safety. The FMA Division does not train observers to be first responders in emergency situations as we defer to the vessel crew. However, there are times when observers are called to use their skills when emergencies occur. Early this year an experienced groundfish observer was asked to assist in a medical emergency when a crewmember was found unconscious in the bathroom of a catcher processor trawl vessel fishing in the Bering Sea. The observer and the chief steward stabilized the crewmember and monitored his vital signs. The USCG was notified and dispatched a helicopter from St. Paul Island. When the crewmember’s pulse was undetected, the observer (who had previously obtained CPR certification) and the steward provided CPR until a pulse could again be felt. When the helicopter arrived, the observer again provided CPR before the crewmember was evacuated. She was able to provide the USCG rescue swimmer with a history of the crewman’s vital signs. The boat was later informed that the man suffered from severe dehydration and had recovered fully after receiving medical attention.

In April one of our observers was abruptly awakened early in the morning when the fishing vessel Laura, a 93-foot trawl vessel, struck a rock 6 miles from the port of Kodiak while returning from a fishing trip. Upon receiving a Mayday emergency call from the vessel, the USCG instructed them to deploy their Emergency Positioning Indicator Radio Beacons. The crew of the Laura and the observer were hoisted off the vessel by a USCG helicopter and flown to Kodiak without injury. With assistance from a tug boat and another fishing vessel, the Laura was floated during high tide the following day and returned to Kodiak without any major incident and the observer continued work onboard another trawl vessel.

Information and Monitoring Technologies

As part of the FMA safety precautions, FMA staff maintain frequent contact with observers via the Division’s at-sea data entry software and communication system. The primary uses of this system are data transmission and communication related to sampling and data recording, but observers also use the system’s text messaging feature to relay any safety concerns they may have. When a message that relays a marine casualty or safety issue is received, it is immediately forwarded to a network of NOAA and USCG personnel who are trained to respond appropriately. Should a message relay a serious threat to an observer’s life or health, or require the removal of an observer from the field, a series of procedures are implemented to ensure a timely response. This at-sea data entry software and communication package provides a valuable tool and safety net to observers in the field.

Observer Services

see caption
Observers practice flipping an overturned life raft. Photos by Joanna Miles.

FMA staff provide comprehensive cold water survival training to new observer trainees before they deploy to sea. This training has been reviewed on a national level by the National Observer Program and exceeds NOAA Fisheries Observer Safety training standards. All FMA safety trainers have completed the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) marine safety instructor class. Consistent with FMA’s emphasis on safety, the two full time field coordinators in Dutch Harbor and Kodiak also have completed the AMSEA training. This ensures the field coordinators are up to date with current safety materials and allows them to further assist observers in the field when evaluating potential safety concerns.

Beginning in 2006, cold-water refresher training was implemented for the hundreds of prior observers during their required annual 4-day briefing. The refresher training reviewed information presented in the initial cold-water survival training and provided additional hands-on practice with equipment and techniques used in the cold-water environment. The training began with a quiz on a range of topics covered in the initial cold-water training, which provided prior observers a means to evaluate their current knowledge and identify areas needing review. Following the quiz, the observers examined real life examples of accidents at sea. Observers reviewed the types of personal floatation devices with the opportunity to try on various models and discussed individual scenarios and the pros and cons of each type of device. In further preparation for an emergency, observers reviewed personal survival kits and were instructed in how to create an appropriate kit to bring to sea. A personal survival kit is an easy and effective way to ensure an observer has the fullest possible advantage in a survival situation. This year, a USCG commercial vessel safety inspection program representative reviewed the regulatory requirements vessels must meet in regard to safety equipment in order to carry an observer. This included an in depth review of life rafts, Emergency Positioning Indicator Radio Beacons, and hydrostatic releases, along with the other various equipment a vessel is required to have on board.

To wrap up the refresher training, all observers participated in a water drill. During the drill, observers were required to don an immersion suit in less than 60 seconds, enter the water from a height of 3-4 feet using the correct technique, swim both alone and in a group, demonstrate skills designed to increase the chance of survival if immersed in the water, board a life raft from the water, and flip an overturned raft in the water. Overall, the refresher training was well received by the prior observers, some of whom had not received any additional training in years, and provided them with the knowledge and skills to help ensure their safety while working in the cold waters of Alaska.

By Allison Barns, Glenn Campbell, Brian Dixon, Brian Mason, and Rob Swanson


            | Home | Site Map | Contact Us | FOIA | Privacy | Disclaimer | | Accessibility | Print |           doc logo