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U.S. North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program

Observer Staff Placed on Fishing Vessels

Observer Program staff members, Jason Stern, Russ Seither, Kerry Waco, and Jonathon Rothman, were placed aboard four different fishing vessels through a new provision in Federal regulations which grants NMFS the authority to place NMFS staff aboard vessels in order to improve the ability of observers to do their jobs. Observer Program staff are sometimes deployed in addition to the regular observer onboard, and other times they replace the regular observer. In all cases, the arrangement is an example of respectful cooperation between the fishing vessel owner and operator, the observer provider company and the Observer Program staff.

Jason Stern from the Observer Programís Seattle office worked aboard a trawler catcher vessel fishing for rockfish in July 2004, while Russ Seither from the Observer Programís Anchorage office worked aboard a trawler catcher vessel targeting Pacific cod in September 2004. Both were testing a new sampling tool called a brailer. A brailer is a nylon meshed, collapsible bag that is used to collect a sample of catch from the trawl. It is placed randomly on the stern deck before the trawl codend is emptied over the deck. The brailer, which is then covered with fish, is hoisted off the deck, collecting a random sampling of catch. The amount of fish collected in this manner ranges from 10 to 700 kg depending on the depth of fish poured over the brailer. The brailer may eventually replace the traditional, time-consuming and labor-intensive, basket sampling technique currently used by many observers. The work of these two staff members will generate design modifications to the brailer and further feasibility testing will be conducted later this year and early in 2005. In addition, they are both certified observers and performed regular observer duties, providing Federally required observer coverage for the vessel.

Jonathon Rothman from the Observer Programís Seattle office was placed aboard a trawler catcher vessel fishing for pollock in August 2004. Jonathon, like Jason and Russ, was the only certified observer onboard and provided the vessel with required observer coverage. The vessel Jonathon worked aboard was chosen because of the inherently difficult sampling and working conditions onboard. His knowledge and experience as an observer, coupled with his status as an Observer Program staff member, helped him to develop standardized sampling methods, which will aide observers assigned to this vessel in the future.

In September 2004, Kerry Waco from the Observer Programís Anchorage office was placed aboard a longliner catcher processor vessel fishing for Pacific cod. Kerry was helping a new observer with a difficult sampling situation and was developing standardized sampling methods for this particular vessel. She was also assessing the performance of the vesselsí seabird avoidance techniques. This particular longliner provided a unique opportunity to observe seabird avoidance gear in action and suggest alternative means to enhance the performance of the gear.

Gulf of Alaska Project

The Observer Program along with the NMFS Alaska Regional Office and the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission are combining efforts to develop alternative observer deployment models for the Gulf of Alaska. The project is in the early planning stages with a goal of beginning observer deployment in a pilot program starting during summer 2005. The focus of this endeavor is to examine different observer deployment models and data collection methods and priorities. Sampling will focus on catch discards and more intensive validation of shoreside catch delivery reporting.

Safety Training Standards

National observer safety training standards are being developed in response to a report by the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA). The National Observer Program issued a contract with AMSEA to evaluate observer safety training in all observer programs in the United States. Several recommendations to improve observer safety training were made in the AMSEA report. One recommendation was to develop a national safety training standard for all observer programs nationwide. A team of observer trainers and managers has been formed to work on developing these standards. Jennifer Ferdinand represents the AFSC Observer Program on this team. The team conducted its second meeting in September 2004 at the National Observer Program office in Silver Spring, Maryland.

By Bob Maier



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