U.S. North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program
Biasing Observer Data Results in Fines and Imprisonment
Halibut bycatch in the groundfish fisheries is managed through caps
on the total weight of halibut caught by vessels targeting groundfish.
Estimates of halibut bycatch are based on data collected by onboard
observers. After the observer has sampled the entire catch for species
composition, any halibut present are discarded by the vessel. Effective
management of the halibut bycatch caps in groundfish
fisheries depends on high quality, accurate data provided by observers.
NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement (OLE)
released information in January regarding the prosecution of two
individuals for biasing observer data and fines levied against the
individualsí employer. Unimak Fisheries was fined $300,000 by the OLE
for infractions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and
Management Act by filing false reports to NMFS regarding halibut bycatch
during groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska (GOA)
in 1999 and 2000.
The crew of a vessel owned by Unimak Fisheries, the
F/V Unimak, attempted to hide catch of halibut from the onboard
observer in an effort to under-report the catch of halibut. Unimak
Fisheries also must pay $200,000 in restitution to the International
Pacific Halibut Commission, was suspended from fishing during the
January 2005 groundfish season for 14 days, is on 18 months probation,
and must hire an expert to examine and correct policies which may have
promoted the criminal activity. For their parts in the crime, Captain
Paul Ison and First Mate Daniel Skauge of the F/V Unimak, were
sentenced to 4 months in prison, fined $25,000, ordered to pay $25,000
in restitution to the International Pacific Halibut Commission, must
forego employment in the fishing industry for one year, and write an
article for a fishing journal explaining their criminal behavior.
Efforts to stop and penalize the biasing of observer data are important
to the AFSC because of the reliance of scientists and managers on the
data provided by the Observer Program.
Presentation to North Pacific Fishery Management Council
Members of the Observer Program gave an evening
presentation about the Observer Program during the North Pacific Fishery
Management Council (NPFMC) meeting in February. The informational
meeting provided an opportunity for NPFMC members, industry members, and
other interested parties to learn more about the Observer Program and to
ask questions of staff.
Brian Mason taught a large class of 28 observer
trainees in January. Observer training is an intensive 3-week course.
Topics include sampling techniques and procedures, identification of
fish, invertebrate, marine mammal, and seabirds, at-sea safety, and use
of ATLAS, our electronic data entry and transmission system. The classes
held at the AFSC afford trainees opportunities to meet and interact with
Observer Program staff and some of the scientists who use the data
collected by observers. Training classes are also held at the University
of Alaska Anchorage Observer Training Center.
The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC)
in cooperation with the Observer Program and NMFS Alaska Regional Office
will be conducting an experiment this summer similar to work done in
2003. The project will occur during the summer central GOA trawl fishery
from 5 July through mid-August. This period will cover three different
fisheries and allow the agencies to conduct further trials of an
alternative observer deployment model. In this model, the agency
dictates where and when observers are deployed rather than the current
system where individual vessels decide when to take observer coverage.
An addition to this summerís project will be the use of brailers (nylon
meshed collapsible bags), for collecting species composition samples at
sea on a subset of the vessels. Observers typically collect catch using
baskets or by diverting some of the catch from the vesselís stern deck.
Brailers may offer a way to collect samples randomly while eliminating
the potential bias of catch stratification on the deck. Both the
traditional sampling and brailer sampling methods will be compared to a
census of observed deliveries to evaluate the accuracy of these methods.
Information and Monitoring Technologies
During the first quarter of this year, 542,319 data records from
vessels and processing plants were received, checked for errors, and
loaded into the NORPAC inseason database. Quality control data checks
are performed by both automated computer routines and by Observer
Program staff. Staff members review the data for potential errors or
problems and contact observers at sea via our custom software (ATLAS) to
ask the observers to check and correct any errors or problems identified
in their data. This system enables us to provide near real-time data to
Operations and Administration
Observer Program staff members are working with NPFMC
staff on analyses to support the NPFMC decision-making process relative
to the future status of the Observer Program. Staff members are also
working with staff from the NMFS Alaska Regional Office on issues
related to the implementation of other NPFMC actions. Amendment 80,
a proposal to reduce bycatch, minimize fish waste, and improve
utilization of fish resources in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands,
will rely in part on bycatch and discard data collected by observers.
The GOA Rockfish Pilot Program, a 2-year program intended to improve
management of the GOA fisheries, will likely impact observer sampling
and coverage protocols.
By Allison Barns
AFSC Quarterly Research Reports Jan-Mar 2005