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Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division (FMA)

FMA Prepares Observers for the 2013 Restructured Observer Program (cont.)

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Figure 1. Observers practicing volumetric catch estimates.

The new training material is designed to introduce partial coverage work protocols and issues to all observers who will board the new fleet. Our training utilizes new hands-on exercises that simulate sampling on a vessel in the field. The 4-day partial coverage class includes an additional 4-6 hours of training regarding all covered gear types (trawl, pot, longline) as well as 4 hours of training on a type of longline gear known as snap-gear ( Figs. 1 and 2). Snap-gear is typically found only on vessels less than 58 ft LOA. Prior to 2013, observer coverage was not required for vessels less than 60 ft so this gear had not been encountered by observers. The new 4-day partial coverage training includes a suite of hands on exercises, reviews the sampling techniques covered in the 3-week training, highlights specific plant duties, highlights specific pollock catcher vessel duties, introduces longliners using snap-gear, and provides additional safety training with a focus on small vessels. The hands-on elements of the training are designed to simulate the observer's experience when faced with the challenge of collecting data on an unfamiliar vessel. An essential focus throughout the training is communication skills to facilitate data collections on vessels where the crew may not be familiar with observer duties. Role playing helps an observer learn how to communicate their data needs to the crew and prepares them for working in small quarters and tight work spaces on deck. Upon the new observers' completion of the 4-day partial coverage training, we believe that they are now ready to deploy and successfully collect the data essential to NMFS.

Some of the Challenges in Partial Coverage

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Figure 2 Observers training with longline snap-gear.


Catch and fishing effort data, species composition sampling, and biological samples form the foundation of observer data. Collecting some of this information on small boats can be more challenging. For example, vessels less than 60 ft LOA are not required to maintain a NMFS daily fishing logbook. Thus, the observer may need to obtain this key information directly from the captain or from the equipment on the boat. Successful data collection is dependent on the observer's ability to understand and communicate their needs to the captain of each vessel. To help facilitate sharing of data, FMA developed "fishing effort summary forms" which observers can provide to the vessel operator to facilitate data recording. These forms are designed to make it easy for the captain of a vessel to provide the haul data needed by the observer. Role-playing activities in class deal with the communications skills that are necessary to collect quality data in a diverse fishing fleet.

Our work to adapt our training to meet the new demands of partial coverage operations was challenging as it occurred in a short time period, with large numbers of observers being prepared for the new year. FMA staff and observers alike have adapted quickly to the new fleet and challenges it presents, and observers are just now returning from the first field deployments of 2013. Observers returning from the partial coverage vessels are providing our staff with important feedback to help us continue to improve our future training. As we move forward we will continue to adapt to meet the data collection needs for the Observer Program. It is an exciting and dynamic period for FMA.

By Paul McCluskey and Mike Vechter.


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