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Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division (FMA)

FMA Prepares Observers for the 2013 Restructured Observer Program 

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Jan-Feb-Mar 2013
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The 2013 North Pacific Groundfish and Halibut Observer Program (Observer Program) implemented changes to how observers are deployed, how observer coverage is funded, and the observer coverage requirements for vessels and processors. These changes will increase the statistical reliability of data collected by the Observer Program, address cost inequality among fishery participants, and expand observer coverage to previously unobserved fishing sectors. The increased observer coverage will help ensure that the best available scientific data is provided to NMFS and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to successfully manage our Alaskan fishery resources. Detailed information on the development and implementation of the 2013 Observer Program may be found at http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/sustainablefisheries/observers/default.htm; a summary of the changes is provided in this issue's feature article.

The changes brought about by implementation of the 2013 Observer Program necessitated adjustments to many operations of the Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division (FMA), including new additions to our training curriculum in order to prepare observers for their work while deployed in Alaska. While the restructuring did not change the overall sampling work on a vessel, our efforts are now expanded to include smaller vessels and the Pacific halibut fishery. Our training needed to be revised to include preparation for work on small vessels that are new to observation.

The regulations implementing the new Observer Program became effective on 1 January 2013 and placed all vessels and processors participating in groundfish and halibut fisheries occurring in Alaskan waters into one of two observer coverage categories: 1) full coverage or 2) partial coverage.

The full coverage category is composed of the catcher-processor fleet, motherships, Bering Sea pollock vessels and processing plants, and the Gulf of Alaska rockfish fisheries. The partial coverage category is composed of catcher vessels fishing with a Federal Fisheries Permit for groundfish in federally managed or parallel fisheries (except those in the full coverage category), catcher vessels fishing for halibut Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQ) or Community Development Quotas (CDQ), catcher vessels fishing for sablefish IFQ or fixed gear sablefish CDQ, and shoreside or stationary floating processor (except those in the full coverage category).

The NMFS deployment plan for 2013 further established a zero coverage category. In 2013, the zero coverage category is composed of all vessels less than 40 ft. in length overall and vessels fishing with jig gear. This could change in future years.

The Observer Program provides all initial and recurrent training to prepare observers for their field deployments. All new observer candidates attend an initial 3-week training class which prepares them for work on full coverage assignments. An additional 4-day training session is then provided for those observers who are scheduled to be deployed on partial coverage assignments. We do have a large number of observers who are already trained and experienced who return for work each fishing year. These prior observers obtain new information needed for the job by attending an annual briefing designed to update them on changes.

Our Focus This Year: The Partial Coverage Fleet

While many of the vessels in the partial coverage fleet have taken observers before, many of the smaller vessels will be new to us. These new vessels can be more challenging for observers because of their smaller size, limited space available for sampling, and potentially short fishing sets which could reduce time for observers to complete their duties. Other challenges may include the quick pace of fishing effort, the lack of a NMFS logbook documenting fishing effort data, and fishing gear unique to vessels less than 58 ft length overall (LOA). While observers on full coverage vessels are typically deployed on a single vessel for several weeks, observers on partial coverage vessels are often on the vessel for only one 2-4 day trip. This shorter deployment results in less time for an observer to become familiar with the vessel and to accomplish all sampling duties such as collecting biological and fishing effort data. Last, the observer may be working with vessel personnel who are new to the program. To address these challenges, new training materials were developed by FMA staff to provide observers the tools and experience needed to collect data on these small vessels.

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