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Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis (FMA) Division

The last quarter of the year is especially busy for Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division (FMA) staff as they debrief the last of the returning observers for the current year and prepare for the new fishing year which starts on 1 January.

Observer Services

The Observer Manual is updated every year to keep pace with changes in fisheries management and data collection requirements. This process continues throughout the year, with intensified activity August through November in order to meet a 1 December deadline for printing. Observer Services staff have also been preparing training materials and training observers for the winter fishing season.

In a typical year, we have a rush of observers returning for debriefing in October and November with a few final debriefings occurring in December. This year, however, 35 observers were still deployed on longline vessels in early December, and this fishery closed unusually late on 12 December when the catch quota was reached. The additional debriefing workload in December occurred when staff were already engaged in training tasks.

Another important fourth quarter activity is the annual inspection of observer sampling stations. Vessels engaged in some fisheries are required by regulation to provide these sampling stations, and staff members inspect vessels each year for compliance.

By Allison Barns

Information and Monitoring Technologies

Several vessels participated in Community Development Quota (CDQ) fisheries during the fourth quarter and continued to fish after most of the open access fisheries had closed. Observers onboard CDQ vessels enter and transmit catch information daily through the use of an at-sea data entry and communications program. The Information and Monitoring Technologies (IMT) staff ensure that these transmissions are received and that all of the incoming data are complete and free of critical errors. The IMT staff also work closely with other FMA staff to finalize observer data. This process involves additional checks for errors and missing data to ensure that complete, accurate, and timely data are available to our end users.

In preparation for the upcoming year, staff verify that the at-sea data entry and communication software is working onboard all vessels that use this system. This is a high priority task because almost 85% of observer data are transmitted electronically through use of this software. Changes currently are being made to improve the database error checking scripts used to verify the accuracy of incoming observer data. Through development of improved error checking and continued work with the fishing industry to facilitate digital transmission of observer data, the Information and Monitoring Technologies task contributes directly to the provision of high quality data to promote stewardship of North Pacific living marine resources for the benefit of the nation.

By Shane Leach

Field Operations

Field Operations (FO) staff and staff from the Sustainable Fisheries Division of the Alaska Regional Office participated in a cooperative research project to evaluate the functionality of new technology and the effectiveness of current sampling protocols in October 2005. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the International Pacific Halibut Commission, the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation, and Cascade Fishing Incorporated collaborated on this project. The principle objectives for this project, which was conducted onboard the F/V Seafisher in the eastern Bering Sea were to

  1. Test the software, hardware, and operation of an automated catch sampling system designed to select weighed random samples from the catch and deliver them to the observer’s sampling station.
  2. Evaluate the accuracy of observer sampling for estimating haul-specific catches of selected target species (yellowfin sole), prohibited species (Pacific halibut), moderately abundant bycatch species (arrowtooth and Kamchatka flounder), and a rare bycatch species group (eelpouts). Composition data from six subsamples per haul were compared against a full catch census of these five species groups to evaluate the accuracy and precision of haul-specific sampling.
  3. Evaluate the use of video technology for monitoring fish handling and discard practices in the yellowfin sole and arrowtooth flounder fisheries. The scientific party placed tagged halibut into the catch and collected data on sorting and discard events to track the detectability of these fish. Data collected in this experiment will be compared with video records to determine the potential application of video for monitoring catch handling and discard.

Results from this project will be useful for improving observer catch sampling methods and providing an analytical basis for designing future catch monitoring programs.

During the last 3 months, FO staff spent considerable time preparing for the January fishery openings. Remaining fish, bird, and marine mammal specimens that had been collected during the year by observers and placed in storage at the field offices were shipped to the scientists who had requested the samples. FO staff also participated in the annual inspection of sampling stations by visiting vessels located in Alaskan ports. FO staff also participated in year-end debriefing to help ensure that observers who had completed their deployments and were able to get home for the holidays.

By Allison Barns and Todd Loomis

Operations and Administration

Operations and Administration (OA) gear room staff have been preparing sampling and safety gear which will be issued to observers in 2006. Each year we deploy approximately 400 observers on fishing vessels; many of these observers are deployed more than once during the year so staff must equip observers for about 800 trips. Approximately half of this gear is shipped to Anchorage to be issued to observers who are trained at the University of Alaska Anchorage Observer Training Center. At the end of the year, in preparation for the initial fishery openings, approximately 250 sets of gear were prepared for issue to observers.

Each year we solicit requests for special observer sampling or data collection projects. Some of the requests we receive are also considered for possible addition to regular observer sampling duties. OA and training staff work with the requestors to develop forms and instructions to be provided to observers. Depending on the nature of the project, sample collection materials may be distributed directly to observers or distributed to the appropriate vessels or processing plants. Fourteen special sampling or data collection projects will be conducted in 2006.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is scheduled to conduct initial review of alternatives for changes in the design and administration of the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program at its February 2006 meeting. Information on this analysis is available on the Council web site at

By Allison Barns

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