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Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis (FMA) Division

The North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program formally became the Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis (FMA) Division on 21 August 2005. (See feature article.) The change will improve our ability to provide high quality data to end users through training and deploying observers into the field, monitoring data collected while observers are still deployed, and finalizing the data during the debriefing process.

This report highlights our support activities and how these activities allow near real-time access to observer data that has been reviewed by staff.

Observer Services

The FMA Division coordinates with the University of Alaska Anchorage to provide several 3-week training sessions yearly, teaching potential observers how to collect quality data. Once observers complete this training, they are certified and eligible for deployment into the field.

Over 85% of deployed observers will work aboard fishing vessels equipped with custom software that allows FMA staff to monitor data collection with a minimum of delay and provides two-way communication with observers through a text messaging system. Text messaging allows observers to describe their sampling methods and ask questions regarding sampling scenarios they encounter in the field. Staff members answer questions, help observers improve their sampling methods, and inform them of any data corrections that need to be done while at sea. Two-way communication also provides emotional support to observers deployed in the field. Advisors offer encouragement to observers, helping observers through the mental strain of the job and to stay focused on data collection.

Data collected at sea are finalized for end users when observers go through postcruise debriefing. FMA staff review the entire data set and make necessary data corrections. Text messaging facilitates this process by resolving data errors while the observer is at sea. Monitoring the data collection process at-sea shortens the debriefing process, reducing the time required to prepare the data for use.

By Amie Olson

Information and Monitoring Technologies

Receipt of data from observers at sea and the near real-time response are made possible through use of an at-sea observer data entry and communication software program. This program, with built-in data checks and a communication link to observers, improves data quality by decreasing the amount of transmitted data errors. In addition, the software program offers two-way communication through a built-in password-protected text messaging system. This facilitates the resolution of data errors and ensures that sampling protocols are followed, all with a minimum of delay.

Once observer data has been transmitted and entered into our database, additional quality control checks are performed before making the data available to end users. Over 85% of observer data are received through the at-sea program; the remaining 15% are received as faxed paper forms. Faxed observer data forms first must be keypunched into our database before undergoing quality control checks and being made available. Receipt and entry of fisheries data in near real-time is a critical component of our efforts to help support staff in the NMFS Alaska Regional Office. As a result of communication and process improvements, we are continuing to reduce the time delay.

In addition to supplying and installing the data entry software used by observers, the information monitoring staff helps troubleshoot transmission or data entry problems observers may experience while at sea. Through open communication with observers and the vessels they work aboard, we help to facilitate the flow of incoming data. As vessels and plants change computer hardware and communication devices or experience transmission problems, we offer limited support and notification to help them remain in compliance with current regulations.

Our programmers currently are creating a new version of the at-sea software program that will improve data quality and will work with a wider range of industry hardware and communication devices. Error checking scripts are also being improved to provide more accurate data and to meet the end users’ needs.

We provide near real-time data and also maintain many years worth of fisheries data for use by AFSC scientists. The information monitoring group supports and tests these databases to make sure they function properly for all users. Working together with staff, the NMFS Alaska Regional Office, and observers at sea, we provide the vital link by compiling and storing fisheries data information to enable better informed management decisions.

By Shane Leach

Field Operations

Advising observers occasionally requires FMA staff to serve aboard a vessel for a period of time to observe sampling problems directly. Having staff based in Dutch Harbor, Kodiak, and Anchorage better enables us to board vessels when necessary. For example, recently we received messages through the at-sea text messaging indicating that an observer was having difficulty devising proper sampling methods. We contacted the fishing company and with its concurrence had our staff join the vessel to assist the observer with his sampling collection methodology. Once onboard, the FMA staff member worked with the observer to identify problems with his sample collection methods and modify them to meet the sampling requirements for this vessel type. Completing this deployment gave us a better understanding of the challenges new observers face on longline vessels.

By Todd Loomis

Operations and Administration

Annually, we solicit input from AFSC scientists and their colleagues regarding special projects that they would like us to consider for the upcoming year. These projects play an important role in meeting the needs of our end users. Typically, short-term special projects such as fin clips from Pacific cod for genetic analysis and Alaska plaice ovary collections can be completed by a few observers and provide key information relevant to fisheries research. When the information needs of end users are long-term, we consider them for inclusion in the regular observer duties.

Work continues on a draft analysis regarding observer procurement and deployment in the North Pacific. This analysis will go before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council early in 2006. The simplified alternatives for action are available on the Council website at

By Jerry Berger

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