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Observer Activities in 2009

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Figure 1. Trainers Paul McCluskey (back left) and Amie Olson (front left) accompany observer candidates on tours of fishing vessels at Fisherman’s Terminal in Seattle. Photo by FMA staff.

During 2009, 734 observers were trained, briefed, and equipped for deployment to vessels and processing facilities operating in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries. These observers collected data onboard 267 vessels and at 19 processing facilities for a total of 35,681 observer days. This is a reduction in effort from our high in 2008 of 39,463 observer days. The high level of effort in 2008 was caused by a spike in activity following the increase in observer coverage requirements mandated by Amendment 80 to the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Fishery Management Plan implemented that year. The decline of effort in 2009 was likely due to several causes, including the decrease of some fish quotas and substantial market changes given the turmoil in the financial markets.

New observer candidates (Fig. 1) are required to complete a 3-week training class with 120 hours of scheduled class time and additional tutelage by training staff as necessary. In 2009, the FMA Division provided training for 54 new observers in Seattle and 107 new observers in Anchorage through a contract with the University of Alaska.

Returning observers are required to attend an annual 4-day briefing class prior to their first deployment each calendar year. Prior to subsequent deployments, all observers must attend a 1-day, 2-day or 4-day briefing; the length of the briefing each observer attends is dependent on that individual’s needs. FMA staff briefed 352 observers in Seattle and 107 observers in Anchorage. The 2009 workforce comprised 39% new observers and 61% experienced observers. This was an increase in returning observers when compared to 2008, when 48% of the workforce was composed of experienced observers.

After each deployment, observers meet with a staff member for debriefing to finalize the data collected. There were 145 debriefings in Anchorage and, due to a larger debriefing staff, 489 debriefings in Seattle. Note that the values for the numbers of briefings and debriefings do not represent a count of individual observers as many observers deploy multiple times throughout the year.

In addition to their normal training duties, FMA staff provided a 2-day safety training class for AFSC interns and RACE Division staff members. Cold-water survival techniques and how to respond to at-sea emergencies were covered through classroom instruction and hands-on drills. The training was customized to the needs identified by the RACE Division and satisfied the safety training refresher requirements for RACE staff who participate in at-sea surveys.

In preparation for the 2010 fishing season, extensive work was performed modifying and updating the 2010 Observer Sampling Manual and the database that captures and stores observer data. Each new year brings some degree of change to observer data collections as part of our efforts to meet the various needs of the end data users. There may be a need to change how data are captured, the amounts of a specific collection, or the need for a new data collection may arise. One of the changes implemented for 2010 is the electronic capture of seabird sighting and interaction data. These data were previously documented on paper forms only. Over 20 new database tables were created to support the electronic capture of the seabird data. New paper data forms were created for documentation of these raw data in the field. While FMA has collected these data for several years, the change to electronic capture required substantial revisions to the Observer Sampling Manual to describe the protocols for data documentation and entry to FMA’s custom at-sea software.

In addition to the standard data collections, observers may also collect data for specific research projects. This year we added a new research project to collect whole starry flounder for investigations into the amounts and possible seasonality of anti-freeze in the blood of starry flounders.

It is important to note that anytime FMA makes a change to the database it requires us to upgrade the data entry application installed on vessel computers. Tracking down vessels over a large expanse of the earth and installing the application is a necessary and critical part of maintaining smooth operations. When fishing starts, we need people, databases, and applications in place and ready to go.

As the FMA Division moves into 2010, staff will be busy reviewing newly collected observer data sent from the field and assisting observers with questions. Staff will also focus on finalizing the data collected in 2009.

By Allison Barns, Mike Moon, and Ren Narita


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