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.

For more information about the National Observer Program (NOP), please see the NOP organizational chart and/or contact NOP National Coordinator Liz Chilton, or Jane DiCosimo or Lee Benaka.

NOAA Fisheries wants to know the factors that contribute to observer retention and has asked current and past observers to complete an Observer Retention Survey.  A survey report should be published by NOAA Fisheries in early 2018.  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
  • Communications
  • Practices and policies
  • Training
  • Regulations
  • Equipment
  • International issues

The safety review also includes gathering and assessing information from current and former observers and stakeholders and partners all recommending improvements to training and other aspects of the program.  Self-evaluation tools for safety will also be developed.  Current or former Fisheries observers interested in sharing safety concerns or experiences with the Review Team should contact the appropriate Review Team member email.  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...

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    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...

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    New Jersey native Ken Keene is the new Mid-Atlantic Area lead and safety lead for the Northeast Fisheries Observer Program. He will be working with the fishing industry in ports from New Jersey to North Carolina. Read more...