The new fisheries observer program for Alaska’s commercial groundfish and halibut fisheries beginsJan. 1, making big changes to how observers are deployed, how observer coverage is funded and which vessels and processed are observed. Officials with the Alaska regional office of the National Marine Fisheries Service said these changes would increase the statistical reliability of data collected by the program, address cost inequality among fishery participants, and expand observer coverage to previously unobserved fisheries. This change is necessary to successfully manage our Alaskan fishery resources, said NOAA officials, who had worked closely with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, fishermen, processors and other stakeholders to restructure the observer program.
Observer requirements for fisheries off Alaska have been in place since the mid-1970s and have been mostly unchanged since the observer program was implemented in 1990. Final action to restructure the observer program and change observer coverage requirements for commercial vessels and processing plants operating in federal groundfish and halibut fisheries off Alaska was taken in October 2010 by the federal council.
Vessels and processors in the full observer coverage category, who are required to have at least one observer at all times, will retain the current funding and observer deployment system, and continue to contract directly with observer provider companies and pay the full cost of their own observer coverage.
Vessels and processors in the partial observer coverage category will have a new funding and deployment system and pay a fee for their observer overage based on the ex-vessel value of their groundfish and halibut. The fee for each landing will be split between vessel owners and processors with processors remitting the fee liability to NOAA Fisheries through an annual billing. NOAA Fisheries is providing start-up funding for the first year of the new program. Fees collected from the industry will fund the program in subsequent years.