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U.S. NORTH PACIFIC GROUNDFISH OBSERVER PROGRAM
During the first quarter of 2003, 238 observers were trained, briefed, and equipped for deployment to fishing and processing vessels and shoreside plants in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. They sampled aboard 265 fishing and processing vessels and at 19 shoreside processing plants for a total of 13,858 days. These observers were trained or briefed in two locations. The University of Alaska Anchorage Observer Training Center briefed 90 observers with prior experience and 18 first-time observers were trained. The AFSC Observer Program in Seattle briefed 114 observers. No observers were briefed at the Observer Program’s field offices in Dutch Harbor and Kodiak during the first quarter of 2003. Sixteen observers were excused from briefing because they had just completed a cruise successfully and were returning immediately to the field. The first quarter 2003 observer workforce thus comprised 8 % new observers and 92 % experienced observers. A 92% return rate for observers is the highest percentage of returning observers ever experienced by the Observer Program during the first quarter of a calendar year.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council), at its February 2003 meeting, approved the following problem statement for restructuring the Observer Program: “The North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program (Observer Program) is widely recognized as a successful and essential program for management of the North Pacific groundfish fisheries. However, the Observer Program faces a number of longstanding problems that result primarily from its current structure. The existing program design is driven by coverage levels based on vessel size that, for the most part, have been established in regulation since 1990. The quality and utility of observer data suffer because coverage levels and deployment patterns cannot be effectively tailored to respond to current and future management needs and circumstances of individual fisheries. In addition, the existing program does not allow fishery managers to control when and where observers are deployed. This results in potential sources of bias that could jeopardize the statistical reliability of catch and bycatch data. The current program is also one in which many smaller vessels face observer costs that are disproportionately high relative to their gross earnings. Furthermore, the complicated and rigid coverage rules have led to observer availability and coverage compliance problems. The current funding mechanism and program structure do not provide the flexibility to solve many of these problems, nor do they allow the program to effectively respond to evolving and dynamic fisheries management objectives.”
The Council also recommended developing alternatives to the design and
funding mechanism of the Observer Program to address data quality and
disproportionate cost issues resulting from the current program
structure. The Council suggested that the primary alternative should
include a funding mechanism that combined a fee-based system with
Federal funding. This alternative would be developed for all vessels and
processors operating in the Gulf of Alaska, with a suboption to extend
the fee-based program to all vessels with currently less than 100%
coverage requirements in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands region. The
Council also requested a discussion of the problems encountered in past
efforts to restructure the Observer Program.
Observer Program staff have begun the at-sea data collection phase of a research project designed to evaluate the accuracy of catch accounting methods currently used by observers and longline catcher processor operators participating in the Pacific cod longline fishery. Primary objectives of the research are
1. Assess the accuracy of observer estimates extrapolated from tally samples and average weights for Pacific cod, using current Observer Program protocols.
2. Assess the accuracy of round weight estimates for Pacific cod calculated using standard product recovery rates and daily product recovery rates, on a set by set basis.
3. Assess seasonal fluctuations in Pacific cod length to weight ratios, and effects those fluctuations may have on product recovery rates and subsequent round weight estimates.
The first of three, 21-28 day cruises began in March 2003 aboard the fishing
vessel Frontier Spirit in the Bering Sea. The cruise carried
three Observer Program staff members and will be followed by a
cruise in July and another in October of this year.
In the interest of fostering increased safety awareness and protection for observers at sea, the Observer Program has given the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Marine Safety direct access to the section of the electronic observer survey questionnaire dealing with safety. Through this effort, the Observer Program continues to develop a spirit of open collaboration and communication with the Coast Guard concerning vessel safety. These efforts will aid in identifying safety concerns aboard fishing vessels that can be investigated and addressed by the Coast Guard. The result will be a safer working environment for observers and all others who work with them on fishing vessels.
By Bob Maier.
Auke Bay Lab