For more than four decades, NOAA Fisheries has used fishery observers and at-sea monitors to collect data from U.S. commercial fishing and processing vessels, as well as from shore-side processing plants and “motherships” (also known as receiver ships). Our eyes and ears on the water, observers and at-sea monitors are professionally trained biological scientists gathering data first-hand to support science, conservation, and management activities. The high-quality data they collect are used to monitor federal fisheries, assess fish populations, set fishing quotas, and inform management. Observers also support compliance with fishing and safety regulations.
Observers may spend days, weeks, or months aboard commercial fishing and receiving vessels. The work is intense, and conditions can be uncomfortable. Preparing observers for safe deployments requires an active partnership among NOAA Fisheries (including our Office of Law Enforcement and General Counsel), observers, observer provider companies, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the fishing industry.
NOAA Fisheries wants to know the factors that contribute to observer retention and is asking current and past observers to complete an Observer Retention Survey. Participation in this survey is voluntary and all information supplied is safeguarded by the National Observer Program. Please read our Fact Sheet for more information about the survey.
Comprehensive Safety Review Underway
The health and safety of our observers and at-sea monitors is a top priority for the agency. In 2016, NOAA Fisheries launched a comprehensive review of all aspects of fishery observer and at-sea monitor safety and health. Led by a team of outside auditors, the review focuses on seven key areas:
- Safety reporting
- Practices and policies
- International issues
The safety review also includes gathering and assessing information from stakeholders and partners, recommending improvements to training and other aspects of the program, and developing self-evaluation tools for safety. The auditors’ final report to NOAA is expected in late 2017.
Electronic Monitoring and Reporting
NOAA Fisheries produces world-class science to support our dual mission of maximizing sustainable fishing while achieving the greatest economic benefits to the nation. One way we accomplish this is by partnering with fishermen and other stakeholders to systematically integrate technology into our data collections and observations. Read more...
Meet Aubrey Ellerston, a fisheries observer. The work that she and her colleagues do is critical to managing the nation's fisheries. Read More....
Recent advances in computer vision and facial recognition technology might soon allow for more efficient collection of fisheries data. Read More....
Observers and fishermen live and work side-by-side on fishing vessels. Their roles in keeping fisheries sustainable are closely related too. Read more...
At-sea observers and monitors are dedicated professional scientists. They make a valuable contribution to our knowledge of fisheries and deserve our respect. Read more....
NOAA Fisheries is conducting an Observer Safety Program Review to assess procedures for keeping U.S. fisheries observers and at-sea monitors safe. Read more...
Updates from the
National Observer Program
- Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodology Final Rule
- Bycatch in the California Drift Gillnet Fishery: 1990-2015
- Final National Bycatch Reduction Strategy
- Seabird Bycatch and Mitigation Efforts in Alaska Fisheries
- S. Atlantic Council Approves Electronic Reporting for Federally Permitted Charter Vessels