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North Pacific Groundfish and Halibut Observer Program Recommendations

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In January 2013 the North Pacific Groundfish and Halibut Observer Program (Observer Program) was restructured to reduce the potential for bias in observer data, authorize the collection of observer data in previously unobserved sectors, and assess a broad-based fee to more equitably distribute the costs of observer coverage1.  Restructuring also established an iterative process of reviewing and revising the program on an annual basis. In June of each year the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) provides an annual report to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) on the previous year’s Observer Program performance.  Based on the analysis and recommendations in the report, a proposed annual deployment plan for the coming year is provided to the Council in October.  This process allows fishery managers to adapt and respond to management needs of North Pacific fisheries.

In May 2014, NMFS provided its first Annual Report to the Council on observer deployment under the restructured observer program. The report, North Pacific Groundfish and Halibut Observer Program 2013 Annual Report (Annual Report) assesses the degree to which the objectives of the observer program restructuring have been met and includes recommendations to improve the program.  Chapter 3 of the report, Deployment Performance Review, was formalized as a separate NOAA Technical Memorandum.

Photo NMFS, North Pacific Observer Program.

As part of the annual review process, a set of performance metrics were used to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of observer deployment into the trip-selection (vessels > 57.5 ft in length) and vessel-selection (vessels 40-57.5 ft in length) strata of the partial coverage category. There was a marked difference in the relative performance of the two deployment methods in 2013.  In the vessel-selection stratum, coverage levels were less than expected during five of the six 2-month selection periods. Coverage shortages in vessel-selection were due to a lack of a proper sampling frame and NMFS granting conditional releases.  In total, 52% of the vessels and 50% of the trips resulting from these vessels were not observed due to conditional releases from observer coverage. This high level of release from coverage coupled with a low sample size resulted in systematic spatial coverage issues, most notably in NMFS Reporting Area 650.  In contrast, the trip-selection stratum met the anticipated coverage goals throughout the year.

Based on the results presented in the Annual Report, at the June 2014 Council meeting NMFS recommended, and the Council agreed, that NMFS should consider placing participants who were in the vessel selection category in 2014 into the trip selection category for 2015.  This recommendation was further analyzed and formally proposed in the 2015 Draft Annual Deployment Plan (ADP) provided to the Council in October 2014. In addition, the Draft ADP proposed maintaining coverage rates of 12% for vessels 40-57.5 ft in length, but increasing observer coverage from 16% to 24% for vessels >57.5 ft. This was based on the Council’s June recommendation to consider higher coverage rates for all trawl vessels and fixed gear vessels over 57.5 ft. The ADP also proposed limiting the conditional release policy for vessels 40-57.5 ft only for life raft capacity in order to improve the sampling efficiency within this stratum.

At its October 2014 meeting, the Council unanimously approved the Draft ADP with the caveat that if vessels in the small vessel trip selection stratum are selected randomly three trips in a row, the third selected trip be released from coverage.  The proposed changes to observer coverage will take effect in January 2015 and remain in effect for the calendar year.  

The review of observer deployment during 2014 will begin early next year culminating in the Annual Report to the Council in June 2015 and another ADP in October 2015.  This non-regulatory, iterative approach of reviewing and recommending changes to observer coverage on an annual basis provides a streamlined approach for the Council and NMFS to adapt to changing needs of the fishery.  For more information on the North Pacific Groundfish and Halibut Observer Program, visit our Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis webpage.  Detailed information on the ADP or Annual Report process can be found on the Alaska Regional Office or the Council’s webpages.

By FMA staff

1The changes applied primarily to the partial coverage fisheries. Full coverage fisheries continued to operate under a separate pay as you go process, although some catcher processor vessels previously under partial coverage were added to the full coverage sector in 2013.



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