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Resource Ecology & Fisheries Management (cont.)

U. S. North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program

During the first quarter of 2002, 233 observers were trained, briefed, and equipped for deployment to fishing and processing vessels and shoreline plants in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, and Aleutian Islands.  They sampled aboard 264 fishing and processing vessels and at 20 shoreline processing plants.  The observers were trained or briefed in various locations.  The University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) Observer Training Center trained 29 first time observers, and another 131 observers with prior experience were briefed at this site.  The AFSC Observer Program in Seattle briefed another 62 observers who had prior experience.  Eleven observers were excused from briefing because they had just completed a cruise successfully and were returning immediately to the field.  The first quarter 2002 observer workforce thus comprised 12% new observers and 88% experienced observers.

The program conducted a total of 110 debriefings during the first quarter of 2002.  Fifty-four debriefings were held in Anchorage, 1 in Dutch Harbor, 1 in Kodiak, and 54 in Seattle.

Changes to Observer Program Regulations Undergo Public Review

At the February 2002 meeting, the NPFMC recommended releasing for public review the draft regulatory analysis addressing various program issues.  The issues addressed in the regulatory analysis fall under four main areas: 1) extending the program’s implementing regulations past their 31 December 2002 expiration date; 2) revising and strengthening the regulations which outline the duties and responsibilities of the observer providers; 3) granting NMFS the authority to place NMFS staff and other qualified persons, aboard groundfish and halibut vessels and at groundfish plants and 4) changing some aspects of the observer and observer provider certification and decertification process to make them compliant with the Administrative Procedures Act.   Final action on the regulatory package is scheduled for the April 2002 meeting.

Program Database Modernization

The Observer Program is developing an Internet, web-based, client-server application for its NORPAC database.  This will speed up connections to the database from remote field office sites in Alaska and will simplify database management and maintenance.  In addition, the program is developing a custom-made gear inventory application that utilizes barcode scanning and interfaces with the NORPAC database.  The inventory system creates a more accurate and efficient system for purchasing, dispersing, and tracking observer gear.

Observer Safety at Sea

Program managers met with representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Marine Safety Office to develop ways in which the program and the USCG can work together to increase observer safety at sea.  Discussions centered around observer safety training, the USCG vessel safety decal system, and  improving communications between observers, program staff, and the USCG.  The meeting helped lay the groundwork for a written Memorandum of Understanding between the USCG and the program will outline an interagency working relationship fostering increased safety awareness and protection for observers at sea.

By Bob Maier.

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