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U.S. North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program

Fisheries Observer Conference

Members of the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program (NPGOP) traveled to Sydney, Australia, in November 2004 for the Fourth International Fisheries Observer Conference. Conference participants included observer program staff members, observers, and other interested parties from all over the world. The conference facilitated discussion of the roles of observer programs and various aspects of the use of at-sea observers. The NPGOP has played a key role in this biennial conference series since its inception in 1998 as the Canada-U.S. Observer Program Workshop.

The Fourth International Fisheries Observer Conference marked the first time the conference was not held on the North American continent. The presentations represented a diverse group from around the world. Globally, observer programs provide a variety of functions specific to the particular management needs for the fishery observed. While the various programs are diverse, there are certain common issues such as safety, observer support, technological approaches to monitoring, conflict with the observed fishermen and techniques to resolve these conflicts, sample design, and other important issues. The NPGOP stands out in the global arena as a longstanding quality program with high levels of coverage and substantial industry support.

Five oral presentations and four posters were presented by NPGOP staff and were well received by conference attendees. The presentations were:

  • “Observer Sampling Bias Causes, Consequences and Solutions”  by W. Karp and J. Ferdinand
  • “The Role of Fisheries Law Enforcement in Providing Acceptable Working Conditions for Observers”  by M. Loefflad
  • “The North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program’s Staff to Sea Program”  by T. Loomis
  • “Inseason Advising in the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program”  by J. Miles
  • “A Career Path for Observers--Cadre Staff Positions”  by K. Waco and J. Ferdinand

The posters were:

  • “Preparing an Observer Program Manual”  by J. Ferdinand, S. Leach, J. Miles, and L. Thompson
  • “Debriefing in the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program”  by K. Kruse (presented by K. Waco)
  • “Developing an Appropriate Safety Training Program”  by B. Mason (presented by J. Miles)
  • “The North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program’s Data Quality Control System”  by K. McCauley, G. Campbell, J. Ferdinand, M. Loefflad, and W. Karp.

2005 Observer Sampling Manual Available

Observer Program staff finalized the observer sampling manual for 2005 (available online at The sampling manual is updated annually with improved data collection instructions and protocols to meet new data requests. Staff also finalized new training and briefing materials designed to prepare observers for the 2005 fishing year.

Observer safety is an important part of training and briefing. For 2005, a major revision of the Observer Program’s vessel safety checklist was completed. The checklist is completed by every observer on each boat they are deployed on. The list identifies critical safety equipment required onboard and prompts observers to inspect the condition of the equipment. The Observer Program received suggestions for improving the checklist after presenting the 2004 checklist to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Observer Advisory Committee. The program also incorporated suggestions requested from approximately fifty individuals and groups who fish in the North Pacific. The checklist and its instructions can be found in the observer sampling manual.

Information and Monitoring Technologies

Members of the Information and Monitoring Technologies staff are developing improvements to the at-sea software application observers use to enter data for near real-time transmission to NMFS. The application also supports text message communications with Observer Program staff. The custom-made application was developed by NPGOP staff and first implemented in 1997. Improvements to the application will increase flexibility for the future, ensure long-term viability, and broaden compatibility. Changes will be necessary to regulatory requirements for industry to provide computer equipment supporting the at-sea application. Project implementation is expected in fall 2005.

Field Operations

During 2004, two Observer Program staff tested brailers for collecting catch samples on trawl catcher vessels (see Quarterly Report, July-August-September 2004 issue). A brailer is a nylon meshed, collapsible bag used to collect a sample of catch from the trawl. Based on staff recommendations, NPGOP Kodiak field station manager Rob Swanson, worked with the brailer manufacturer to produce an improved brailer design. We expect to deploy Rob in the flatfish fishery in early 2005 to test the modified design. If the new brailer is an effective sampling tool, we plan to complete more expansive tests during the Gulf of Alaska fisheries in summer 2005.

Operations and Administration

Observer Program subtasks work in close coordination to ensure that qualified and well trained observers are deployed in various groundfish fisheries of the North Pacific. Through planning and coordination with our end users, the Observer Program works to keep each year’s data collections relevant to the needs of many internal and external clients. In addition to general data collections, the Observer Program also completes a number of projects designed to meet certain specialized needs. The Observer Program ensures that our information systems are updated and current with technological changes to better obtain fisheries-dependent information within the timeframes, and of the quality, that the clients of the Observer Program need.

During 2004, 719 observers were trained, briefed, and equipped for deployment to fishing and processing vessels and shoreside plants in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, and Aleutian Islands. They sampled aboard 317 fishing and processing vessels and at 21 shoreside processing plants for a total of 36,624 days. These observers were trained or briefed in two locations. The University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) Observer Training Center briefed 426 observers with prior experience and another 63 first-time observers were trained there, while the AFSC Observer Program in Seattle briefed 213 observers and trained 17 first-time observers. Fifty-five observers were excused from briefing because they had just completed a cruise successfully and were returning immediately to the field. The 2004 observer workforce comprised 10% new observers and 90% experienced observers.

The Observer Program conducted a total of 685 debriefings during 2004. Twelve debriefings were held in Kodiak, 305 in Anchorage, and 368 in Seattle.

By Allison Barns


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