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Resource Ecology & Fisheries Management (REFM) Division

U.S. North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program

Observer Services

photo of survival training
Cold water survival training was provided by the Observer Program as part of its commitment to safety.

The North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program (NPGOP) emphasizes safety (especially the safety of its staff and observers) and engaged in several activities associated with safety training during the second quarter of 2005.

In April, the NPGOP hosted a special session of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Associationís (AMSEA) Marine Safety Instructor Training (MSIT) designed specifically for observer safety trainers. Trainers from three NMFS regions attended the 3-day training session, which focused on effective safety training techniques and risk assessment and mitigation. The MSIT class is U.S. Coast Guard approved and allows NMFS safety trainers to obtain their Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) "Train the Trainer" Certificate. The NPGOP currently has four MSIT certified safety trainers, and the University of Alaska Anchorageís North Pacific Fisheries Observer Training Center has an additional five.

The NPGOP provides training to other groups when resources allow. This quarter, program staff assisted the Northwest Regionís West Coast Groundfish Observer Program (WCGOP) in training their new and returning observers and the at-sea hake component of the WCGOP, providing refresher safety training to experienced observers. In May, Brian Mason provided a Cold Water Survival class for the Centerís National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML) staff headed for field work. AFSC scientists often attend the at-sea safety training portion of the Observer Training Class, but the number of NMML staff needing the class and the unique work they would be doing justified designing a class to suit their needs.

Training to avoid potentially hazardous situations and provide the expertise to properly respond to hazardous situations that do occur is only one aspect of the NPGOPís commitment to a "safety first" culture. NPGOP staff are working to increase the safety of observers and staff at sea by working with National Observer Program staff on reviewing and commenting on proposed Observer Health and Safety Regulations and draft NOAA Fisheries Service Observer Safety Training Standards.

By Jennifer Ferdinand

Field Operations

The field operations component of the NPGOP also made advances in safety during the quarter by revising and improving the NPGOP vessel safety checklist.

Several years ago observers were encouraged to spot check major safety equipment that vessels are required to maintain. Between 2001 and 2003 the list of items observers were encouraged to check evolved into a detailed checklist, and beginning in 2004 observers were required to document that they examined or verified the major safety items on the checklist.

Significant improvements were made to the checklist in 2005, many based on suggestions from NPGOPís stakeholders. Observers are now required to complete the safety checklist, and vessel operators are encouraged to participate in this exercise. By completing the checklist with observers and discussing its components, vessel operators can satisfy the requirement to provide a safety orientation and observers have an opportunity to discuss vessel safety before their voyage. The NPGOP safety checklist is one the most comprehensive in use today.

By Todd Loomis

Information and Monitoring Technologies

The NPGOPís in-season monitoring team reviews all data communications from observers at sea using the at-sea observer software application. This application is the Observer Programís link for receiving up-to-date fishing information from observers. It is also used for advising observers on sampling protocols to enhance data quality. Once observer data is received, it is put through a series of data checks and made available as soon as possible to the Programís clients.

The Observer Program along with the NMFS Alaska Regional Office is considering future software needs. The process is now under way to make the regulatory changes for the minimum observer communication equipment requirements which industry provides for us. These changes are being designed to take advantage of current technology and to provide flexibility for potential expansion and change in data communication requirements. The Observer Program is also upgrading its database system and providing training to staff to assist them in making data queries.

By Shane Leach

Operations and Administration

The Observer Advisory Committee (OAC), a subcommittee of the NPFMC, met 12-13 May at the AFSC in Seattle. The OAC provides advice to the Observer Program and recommendations to the NPFMC on matters pertaining to the Observer Program. At this meeting, the OAC drafted comments to NMFS and the NPFMC on the Preliminary Draft Environmental Assessment/Regulatory Impact Review for a Fishery Management Plan Amendment to Establish a New Program for Observer Procurement and Deployment in the North Pacific. This amendment addresses changes in the Observer Program structure that are needed to address several longstanding data quality issues.

The NPFMC met the week of June 1 and reviewed the draft analysis. The Council also received the report from the OAC and public testimony and recommended changes in the draft analysis which will be taken into account in future versions. The Council requested that the OAC meet prior to Council initial review of and final action on the analysis. Initial review is scheduled for February 2006. The draft analysis is available on the NPFMC web site at:

By Martin Loefflad


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