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U.S. North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program

Changes to Funding and Deployment System

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council and NMFS continued developing an analysis for a fishery management plan (FMP) amendment to restructure the funding and deployment systems in the Observer Program to better ensure ongoing collection and quality observer data. The FMP amendment has several fee options. These collected fees combined with possible federal dollars would allow NMFS to contract directly for observer services. The FMP amendment also includes a new deployment structure which would do away with the current 0%, 30%, and 100% observer coverage categories. Vessels and shore plants would be required to carry observers when they were provided by NMFS. NMFS would determine when and where to deploy observers based on data collection and monitoring needs.

The alternatives within the analysis of the FMP amendment consist of various combinations of vessels and shoreside processors in both the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands. The Councilís Observer Advisory Committee (OAC) is currently wrestling with many questions and issues pertaining to the various alternatives. Discussions at the OAC meeting in March 2004 centered on the problems associated with simultaneous operation of two separate observer funding and deployment systems (old and new) and the so far unknown costs associated with observer compensation and overtime pay under federal contracts. The Council added two more suboptions to the analysis at its June 2004 meeting. Review of the initial draft analysis by the Council is currently scheduled for October 2004.

Increase in Debriefings

Fifty percent of the observer debriefings in the first 6 months of this year have been conducted at the Observer Programís Anchorage office. This represents a 10% increase over previous years. Observer providers make the decision to debrief an observer in either Seattle or Anchorage, so this increase is under their control alone. This increased level of debriefing coupled with over 50% of observer training and briefing occurring at the University of Alaskaís Observer Training Center in Anchorage indicates the importance of the Observer Programís presence in Anchorage. The presence of Observer Program staff in Alaska with offices in Anchorage, Dutch Harbor, and Kodiak has become increasingly important for the overall success of the Observer Programís mission.

OIG Report

The Department of Commerce Office of Inspector Generalís Office of Inspections and Program Evaluations (OIG) completed a review of 7 of the 14 Observer Programs in the United States including the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program. The final report was made public in March 2004. The review was meant to determine whether the seven observer programs are meeting data collection needs, how NMFS ensures that observer data is of high quality, and how well the programsí missions and objectives are communicated.

The findings and directions of the OIG were that NMFS 1) should explore ďbestĒ data quality assurance practices across programs; 2) needs to ensure that the vessel selection processes used to place observers on ships result in data that is representative of the fishing effort; 3) needs to take actions to help maintain an experienced corps of observers; 4) should measure and monitor performance across all programs in order to improve regional observer program accountability; 5) should develop a national outreach strategy to better communicate the mission and goals of the observer program to the fishing industry.

The complete report can be found at

By Bob Maier


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