1. Why are fisheries monitored by fishery observer programs?
2. Where do fishery observers work?
3. What type of work do fishery observers perform?
4. How do I become an observer?

1. Why are fisheries monitored by fishery observer programs?
The authority to place observers on commercial fishing and processing vessels operating in particular fisheries is provided either by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA) or the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). These two acts require the government to collect data on activities which affect marine resources. Many of the programs also satisfy requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The data collected by the observers programs are often the best means to get current data on the status of many fisheries. Without observers and observer programs, there would not be sufficient data in many fisheries for effective management.
Big eye tuna

Measuring a striped bass2. Where do fishery observers work?
Fishery observers work in US waters. Observers collect data on the Georges Bank scallop and lobster fisheries, as well as the California drift gillnet fishery targeting swordfish and thresher shark. Observers monitor the vast Alaska fisheries in the North Pacific and Bering Sea. The Gulf of Mexico Otter trawl shrimp fishery, and Mid Atlantic shark gill net fishery are other examples of fisheries that are monitored by observers. The size of vessel range from factory motherships several hundred feet long, to 40 ft bottomfish vessels. The length of a fishing trip varies with the fishery and the vessels involved. Some fisheries have trips that typically last a day such as Mid-Atlantic gillnet and Monterey Bay set net fisheries. Pelagic longliners targeting swordfish and tunas may stay out five or six weeks to fill their holds.

Sorting catch3. What type of work do fishery observers perform?
Fishery observers monitor and record catch data commercial fishing activity from US vessels and processing facilities. When observing, most observers are at sea. Processing facilities may be on shore, but many are large factory vessels. The data is used to supplement research and aid in the management of US living marine resources. The observers may collect data on species composition of the catch, weights of fish caught, disposition of landed species and protected species interactions. Though most observer programs cover commercial fishing activities, not all do. Some observers in the Gulf of Mexico monitor the removal of oil drilling platforms and off Florida's East coast, observers monitor beach nourishment dredging.

Much of the data collected by observers are fish lengths, weights and aging structures. Observers working on processing vessels can often collect stomach content data that would be otherwise difficult to collect. Fishing positions and fishing effort are important data for managing fisheries. In some fisheries, observers provide valuable assistance to researchers with tagging projects involving sharks, tunas, sablefish, spiny lobsters, swordfish, and even some species of sea turtles. Observer programs often are responsible for collecting the largest part of fisheries management data.

The first hand information supplied by observers to NOAA Fisheries on protected species interactions with fishing activities provides excellent information to help sustain and rebuild some populations of protected species.


4. How do I become an observer?
NOAA Fisheries contracts with or certifies private observer provider companies to recruit, hire, and deploy observers. Observer providers recruit for observer candidates that meet the following eligibility criteria:
Loggerhead turtleEducation: Observer candidates should have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university with a major in one of the natural sciences, or with a combination of marine science and fisheries course work with specialized experience. The specialized experience must have been in the field of fisheries and include functions such as participation in ocean fishing activities; observing ocean fishing activities; participation in fishery research cruises; recording data on marine mammal sightings and fishing activities; tallying incidental take of marine mammals, sea turtles, and sea birds from fishing platforms; collecting biological samples and specimens from postmortem animals; and entering data into a database using computers.
Pilot whale

Physical/medical condition: Observer candidates should be able to pass a physical and eye examination prior to deployment certifying that they do not have health or vision problems that would jeopardize their safety or the safety of others while at sea.

Training: Observer candidates must complete required training by passing written and/or oral tests and must demonstrate their potential to collect accurate field data, and to react to unfamiliar situations at sea in a professional manner.

Individual programs may have additional requirements such as calculator and computer skills; current CPR and first aid certification; minimum physical condition standards; U.S. citizenship; and/or agreeing to a background check. For more information on becoming an observer, and to obtain an application for employment, contact the observer providers.