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Fisheries Monitoring & Analysis: Research Feature

North Pacific Groundfish and Halibut Observer Program 2014 Annual Report Update(pg 1, 2)

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Wrangell, Alaska, at sunset. Photo NOAA Fisheries.  

At the June 2015 meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Sitka, Alaska, the Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division (FMA) presented the North Pacific Groundfish and Halibut Observer Program 2014 Annual Report to the Council. 

The Annual Report, which is drafted jointly by staff from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center and the Alaska Regional Office, provides information, analysis, and recommendations based on deployment of observers in the North Pacific Groundfish and Halibut Observer Program. The Observer Program provides the regulatory framework for National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)-certified observers to obtain information necessary to conserve and manage the groundfish and halibut fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands  management areas. Data collected by trained, independent observers are a cornerstone of management of the Federal fisheries off Alaska. These data are needed by the Council and NMFS to comply with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other applicable Federal laws and treaties.

Each year NMFS releases an Annual Deployment Plan (ADP), the most recent of which was released in December 2014, which describes how NMFS plans to deploy observers to vessels and processors in the partial observer coverage category in the upcoming year.  The following year, the agency provides an Annual Report with descriptive information and scientifically evaluates the deployment of observers.  The Annual Deployment Plan and Annual Report process provide information to assess whether the objectives of Observer Program restructuring have been met and a process to make recommendations to improve implementation of the program to further these objectives.  The 2014 Annual Report provides information and recommendations based on deployment of observers in 2014.

In addition to scientifically evaluating the deployment of observers in the partial observer coverage category, the Annual Report includes information on fees and budget for the partial coverage category (Chapter 2); descriptive information on the number of vessels and trips, and catch and discards by FMP area, and a summary of observer trainings and briefings (Chapter 4); compliance and enforcement (Chapter 5); outreach (Chapter 6); and NMFS recommendations (Chapter 7).

Observer Coverage Categories and Coverage Levels
Under the current Observer Program, all vessels and processors in the groundfish and halibut fisheries off Alaska are assigned to one of two observer coverage categories: 1) a full coverage category or 2) a partial coverage category.
The full coverage category includes:

Catcher-processors (with limited exceptions).

  • Motherships.
  • Catcher vessels while participating in programs that have transferable prohibited species catch (PSC) allocations as part of a catch share program.
  • Inshore processors when receiving or processing Bering Sea pollock.

The partial observer coverage category includes: 

  • Catcher vessels designated on a Federal Fisheries Permit when directed fishing for groundfish in federally managed or parallel fisheries, except those in the full coverage category.
  • Catcher vessels when fishing for halibut individual fishing quota (IFQ) or sablefish IFQ (there are no PSC limits for these fisheries).
  • Catcher vessels when fishing for Community Development Quota (CDQ) halibut, fixed gear sablefish CDQ, or groundfish CDQ using pot or jig gear (because any halibut discarded in these CDQ fisheries does not accrue against the CDQ group’s transferable halibut PSC allocation).
  • Catcher-processors that meet criteria that allow assignment to the partial coverage category.
  • Shoreside or stationary floating processors except those in the full coverage category.

Under the 2014 Annual Deployment Plan , the partial coverage category consisted of vessels in three “strata” (statistical subgroups) or “pools” with differing requirements:

No Selection Pool. This category applied to all vessels less than 40 ft length overall (LOA) and catcher vessels fishing with jig gear (which includes handline, jig, troll, and dinglebar troll gear). Inclusion in this pool is re-evaluated each year in the Annual Deployment Plan and may change in the future. Eligible landings from vessels in the no selection pool are included in the observer fee assessment.

Vessel Selection Pool1.This category applied to catcher vessels fishing with hook-and-line and pot gear that are greater than or equal to 40 ft and less than 57.5 ft LOA.  Vessel owners or operators in this pool were not required to log trips into the Observer Declare and Deploy System (ODDS).  However, a subset of vessels, randomly selected by NMFS, were required to take observers for every groundfish or halibut fishing trip that occurred during a specified 2-month period. Owners of selected vessels were contacted by NMFS at least 30 days in advance of the 2-month period.

Trip Selection Pool. This category applies to all catcher vessels of any length fishing with trawl gear; to hook-and-line and pot gear vessels that are greater than or equal to 57.5 ft. LOA; and to the small catcher-processors eligible to be placed in partial coverage. Owners or operators of vessels in this pool are required to log each fishing trip into the ODDS system. Upon logging a trip, the vessel owner or operator is immediately informed if the trip has been randomly selected for observer coverage. If the logged fishing trip is selected, then the vessel must take an observer on that trip. The observer will be provided by a NMFS contractor. Vessel owners or operators in this pool must log fishing trips at least 72 hours before anticipated departure.

NMFS set the final deployment rates for 2014 as:

  • 12% of vessels for the vessel selection pool, and
  • 16% of trips for the trip selection pool.

( 1The vessel selection pool was discontinued at the end of 2014 due to concerns about the quality of observer data from vessels in this pool. It was difficult for NMFS to accurately project the list of vessels that would fish in the vessel selection pool in each selection period, which made it difficult to randomly select vessels for observer coverage. In addition, the large number of conditional releases created concerns about bias in the data collected from vessels in this pool. These concerns are described in more detail in the 2013 Annual Report.  )


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