NOAA explains new Halibut Observer Program


Representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries department explained the upcoming changes to the North Pacific Groundfish and Halibut Observer Program to vessel owners the evening of Nov. 28.

“The program is now expanding to the halibut fleet and will affect boats less than 60 feet in length,” National Marine Fishery Service's Martin Loefflad said. “We will be observing boats as small as 40 feet.”

These are the main changes in a program that has been in place since the late 1970s.

The Observer Program has had a vital role in the management of North Pacific groundfish fisheries since the program started over 20 years ago. The information collected by observers provides scientific information for managing the groundfish fisheries and minimizing by-catch.

Beginning in January 2013, the new Observer Program will go into effect and it makes important changes to how observers are deployed, how observer coverage is funded, and the vessels and processors that must have some or all of their operations observed.

The new Observer Program will allow National Marine Fishery Services to determine when and where to deploy observers according to management and conservation needs, with fees provided through a system of fees based on the retained value of groundfish and halibut in fisheries covered by the new program.

The new program is designed to reduce sources of bias that currently jeopardize the statistical reliability of catch and by-catch data collected by the Observer Program.

Petersburg fishermen did not show an aversion to the program itself but had a problem with the possibility of being chosen more than once in the partial coverage pool.

Other concerns voiced were of space available for an extra person on a small boat.

Most of the fleet in Petersburg falls into the partial coverage category.

This category is for vessels 40 to 60 feet long fishing halibut or groundfish. Some of these boats will be randomly selected to carry an observer for one or more trips throughout the year or for every trip during a two month period.

At this time, boats smaller than 40 feet are not included in the program but boats 57 and a half to 60 feet will be required to give 72 hours notice of each fishing trip and may or may not be chosen to take an observer along.

Vessels and processors in the partial coverage category will see substantial changes in how observers are deployed and paid for.

Concerns regarding the safety of the observers as well as the crews came into question as scenario after scenario was put before the representatives.

“Observers carry their own safety gear, including a survival suit and they know how to use it. This is part of their training,” Loefflad stated. “The observers are trained to adapt to the boat.”

Observer coverage in the partial coverage category will be funded through revenue generated from a fee.

Loefflad explained that landings from all vessels in the partial coverage category will be assessed a 1.25 percent fee on standard ex-vessels prices of the landed catch weight of groundfish and halibut.

“The fee assessment will be billed to the processor,” Loefflad stated. “It will be the responsibility of the processor to get the fee from the fishermen.”

All vessels, even if they are on the no selection list will pay the 1.25 percent fee.

Other concerns reverberated around the room regarding the way in which the processors my charge for this fee. NMFS will use a standardized value based on the previous year's prices.

Loefflad explained that the agency will use 2013 to get a good baseline of information and there will possibly be some flexibility in the future.

This new observer program goes into effect January 1.


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