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Oct-Nov-Dec 2011
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FMA Observer Program Activities in 2011: A Record Breaking Year!

Liz Chilton
Figure 1.  Liz Chilton, FMA Field Operations Supervisor.

The year 2011 brought the biggest training and deployment workload in 3 years to FMA. For the 2011 fishing year, 800 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 262 vessels and at 20 processing facilities for a total of 45,188 observer days. This is an increase in effort of approximately 10,000 observer days from 2010 and an increase of 6,000 observer days from our previous high of 39,463 in 2008.

The high level of effort was due to new coverage regulations resulting from the Amendment 91 regulations affecting the Bering Sea pollock fishery. See our article in the April-May-June 2011 Quarterly Report ( for details regarding the Amendment 91 regulations.

New observer candidates 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 2011, the FMA Division provided training for 89 new observers in Seattle and 136 new observers in Anchorage at the Observer Training Center 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. These briefings provide observers with the necessary updates regarding their responsibilities. 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 330 observers in Seattle and 192 observers in Anchorage.

After each deployment, observers meet with a staff member for debriefing to finalize the data collected. There were 110 debriefings in Anchorage and, due to a larger debriefing staff, 584 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 preparation for the 2011 fishing season, extensive work was performed modifying and updating the 2011 Observer Sampling Manual. 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 amount of data obtained for a specific collection, or the need for a new data collection may arise. For 2011 we modified Pacific cod and pollock specimen collections and added skate vertebrae specimen collections as a standard collection. Skate vertebrae specimens were previously collected as a research project by only specific observers.

Another highlight of 2011 was the addition of a new supervisor position to our Division. Beginning December 5, Liz Chilton joined FMA as our Field Operations Supervisor (Fig. 1). Liz's extensive experience in Alaska fisheries began in the winter of 1990 when she worked for Alaskan Observers Inc. as a North Pacific groundfish observer, the first year domestic observers were required. After receiving an M.S. in Fisheries Oceanography from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Liz worked for the Observer Program as a debriefer from September 1998 through October 1999. For the following 6 years, Liz worked as a research fisheries biologist at the AFSC's Kodiak Laboratory for the Groundfish Assessment program conducting rockfish maturity and natural mortality research as well as serving as Field Party Chief and deck boss on NMFS groundfish bottom trawl surveys conducted every summer in the Gulf of Alaska or the Aleutian Islands. From November 2005 until taking this position with FMA, Liz worked with the Shellfish Assessment Program at the Kodiak Laboratory designing and conducting fisheries oceanographic research of commercial crab species in the eastern Bering Sea. In addition to her extensive experience in fisheries, Liz spent 2011 participating in the Department of Commerce Aspiring Leadership Development Program. This highly competitive 1-year program for Department of Commerce employees provided several hands-on training opportunities including a 2-month assignment with the NMFS National Observer Program in Silver Spring. The FMA Division is very pleased that Liz brings her skills, experience, and enthusiasm to this important new position.

By Allison Barns and Ren Narita

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