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U.S. North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program

Expansion of Electronic Message System

The requirement for vessels to provide hardware and install software to support observer at-sea reporting (ATLAS system) and communication was extended to all 100% observed catcher vessels and 30% observed shore plants this year. The ATLAS system is now available to observers on all vessels over 124 ft in length and all shore plants that process over 499 t of groundfish per month. This expansion could not have been possible without the dedicated efforts of many people in the Observer Program.

Data Contractors Closes

One of the first observer provider companies, Data Contractors, went out of business early this year citing increased insurance costs as the primary reason for closure. Data Contractors, located in Anchorage, Alaska, had been deploying observers since the inception of the domestic North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program in 1990.

North Pacific Fishery Management Council

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) continued developing an analysis for a fishery management plan (FMP) amendment to restructure the funding and deployment systems in the Observer Program. Under the FMP amendment, a new fee-based mechanism would be established which would be based on a percentage of the exvessel value of catch. 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 when implemented would do away with the current 0%, 30% and 100% observer coverage categories, and 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 issues surrounding the 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. Council review of the initial draft analysis has been scheduled for October 2004.

By Bob Maier

Cooperative Research with Russia

The Russian research laboratory in Vladivostok, TINRO, collected and transferred 1,500 salmon fin clips collected from 995 sockeye and 505 chinook specimens from the western Bering Sea to the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in January 2004.The specimens were collected during the 2003 Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS) cruise in the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone of the western Bering Sea. The fin clips were preserved in 90% alcohol for genetic studies to differentiate stocks. The genetic analyses will be carried out by the ADF&G and the Centerís Auke Bay Laboratory.

By Loh-Lee Low

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