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2008 Brings Changes to Observer Data Collections

The close of the calendar year is a period of transition for the Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis (FMA) Division from the end of one fishing year to the start of the next. By late December 2007 most groundfish fisheries in the North Pacific had closed. Observers had returned from their deployments to debrief with FMA staff and finalize the data they collected at sea. In October through December, FMA staff debriefed 187 observers, which represents approximately one-third of all the observers debriefed during the entire year. Nearly 90% of these debriefings were conducted during October and November. Staff familiar with debriefing and data quality control processes set other tasks aside to assist with debriefings. Their help ensured that observers moved through the debriefing process expeditiously.

Where possible, the FMA Division strives to implement any major changes in its protocols with the start of the new year. Changes are driven by internal needs or by changes in fishing regulations, which often impact the work of observers. We monitor changes in regulations and update the Observer Sampling Manual and other training materials yearly in preparation for the upcoming year. For example, new regulations contained in Amendment 80 to the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands fishery management plan include monitoring requirements with different observer protocols. Thus, it was necessary that FMA change its instructions to observers. Amendment 80 regulations also increased observer coverage requirements for some vessels, thereby increasing the overall number of observers who will be going to sea.

The Division also implemented major improvements to observer sampling and data recording methods, which now require recording discrete samples within hauls and recording them in detail. This replaces the past practice where individual samples were pooled and valuable information was lost. Full descriptions of these changes are contained in the "2008 Observer Sampling Manual" on the FMA web site at (Please contact Jennifer Ferdinand at or 206-526-4076 if you have any questions regarding these changes.)

Changes to observer data collections required changes to the observer database and the custom software used by observers at sea to enter and submit data. This was a large and complex project with an inflexible deadline and required developing a new computer application which was deployed in the field on numerous vessels. Database tables at the AFSC were also developed to accept the new information, and the system was thoroughly tested.

These changes required training observers in new protocols. Training in December was intense and demanding on both FMA staff and observers. All prior observers needed focused study to transition to the changes. Given the demand for increased numbers of observers in the new fishing year, FMA added an additional 3-week training class for new observers to the normal class schedule. In the FMA Seattle office, two training classes were held subsequent to each other, one ending just before the Christmas holiday, and the other beginning the day after Christmas. By mid-January, we will have approximately 70 observers deployed to the field, and we expect that will increase to over 200 observers in the field by the end of January.

By Allison Barns

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