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Field Operations

Photo of Ryan Braham with a green sturgeon
The fishery observer Ryan Braham on a trawl catcher vessel north of Unimak Island, Alaska, recorded what may be the first confirmed record of a green sturgeon in the eastern Bering Sea.

On 2 March 2006 Ryan Braham, an observer collecting data on a trawl catcher vessel north of Unimak Island, recorded what may be the first confirmed record of a green sturgeon, Acipenser medirostris, in the eastern Bering Sea. The 1.36 m sturgeon weighed 12.6 kg and was caught while the vessel trawled for Pacific cod in approximately 26 fathoms of water. This species is generally found much farther south, along the west coast of North America as far south as Mexico. While observers have documented a limited number of sturgeon in commercial catches off the Washington and Oregon coasts, this is our first confirmed record from an observer in the Bering Sea.

Ryan was a new observer on the third vessel of his first deployment when the sturgeon came up in the catch. He and the crew members recognized that this was a rare event and took several photographs. Scientists at the AFSC used these to confirm the specimen was a green sturgeon.

By Todd Loomis and Duane Stevenson

Operations and Administration

We met with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council's Observer Advisory Committee, Scientific and Statistical Committee, Advisory Panel, and the Council itself to provide an initial review of alternatives for changes in the design and administration of the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program. The purpose of this analysis to address the following problem statement:

"The North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program (Observer Program) is widely recognized as a successful and essential program for management of the North Pacific groundfish fisheries. However, the Observer Program faces a number of longstanding problems that result primarily from its current structure. The existing program design is driven by coverage levels based on vessel size that, for the most part, have been established in regulation since 1990. The quality and utility of observer data suffer because coverage levels and deployment patterns cannot be effectively tailored to respond to current and future management needs and circumstances of individual fisheries.

In addition, the existing program does not allow fishery managers to control when and where observers are deployed. This results in potential sources of bias that could jeopardize the statistical reliability of catch and bycatch data. The current program is also one in which many smaller vessels face observer costs that are disproportionately high relative to their gross earnings. Furthermore, the complicated and rigid coverage rules have led to observer availability and coverage compliance problems. The current funding mechanism and program structure do not provide the flexibility to solve many of these problems, nor do they allow the program to effectively respond to evolving and dynamic fisheries management objectives."

The Council discussed this analysis at their February 2006 meeting and adopted the following motion:

1. The Council identified the alternative providing for the extension of the existing program as the preliminary preferred alternative. The Council also approved an addition to the problem statement as follows:

"While the Council continues to recognize the issues in the problem statement above, existing obstacles prevent a comprehensive analysis of potential costs. Immediate Council action on a restructured program is not possible until information is forthcoming that includes clarification of cost issues that arise from Fair Labor Standards Act and Service Contract Act requirements and statutory authority for a comprehensive cost recovery program. During the interim period, the Council must take action to prevent the expiration of the existing program on December 31, 2007."

2. The Council recommends that a new amendment proposing restructuring alternatives for the Observer Program should be considered by the Council at such time that: 1) legislative authority is established for fee-based alternatives; 2) the Fair Labor Standards Act issues are clarified (by statute, regulation, or guidance) such that it is possible to estimate costs associated with the fee-based alternatives; and/or 3) the Council requests reconsideration in response to changes in conditions that cannot be anticipated at this time. Subsequent amendment packages regarding the Observer Program should include an option for the Federal funding of observers.

3. The Council requests that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) prepare a discussion paper on issues and internal agency process for the use of video equipment to complement and augment observer monitoring of the North Pacific groundfish fisheries under the current service delivery model. Other ongoing issues that may be considered by the Council under the current service delivery model also should be identified.

It is important to note that this action was necessary to prevent expiration of regulatory authority for NPGOP in December 2007. In taking this position as an interim step, the Council recognized that restructuring of the program cannot proceed unless the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act includes the observer fee collection language proposed by the Administration. Furthermore, since industry costs must be estimated before analysis of additional alternatives can be completed, consideration of these alternatives cannot occur until the questions submitted to the Department of Labor are fully resolved. Information on this analysis is available on the Council web site at

We met with staff from the AFSC Socio-Economics Program and agreed on data collection protocols specific to their needs which we will implement in 2007.

By Allison Barns

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