Concerns over the safety of fisheries observers have prompted a review of training and related politics involved in monitoring domestic fishing fleets.
Officials within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Office of Law Enforcement say the review, prompted by concerns over increasing incidents of attacks on observers, is to be completed in October.
NOAA officials are responding to complaints from fisheries observers filed through the Association for Professional Observers and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
But according to Matthew Brown, acting special agent in charge for NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement in Alaska, such attacks on observers are rare in Alaska.
In any case, Brown said, all crimes against observers are investigated quickly as a highest priority. The Alaska division takes a proactive approach to workplace crimes against observers, through outreach to industry and training to prepare observers for possible conflicts at sea, Brown said.
Observers are instructed to report every conflict and potentially hostile interaction.
“We do not want observers to ever be considered enforcement,” he said. “Their role is to report observed activity that may be a violation, just as they report biological data for fisheries management.”
It is NOAA’s role to review, interpret, identify and follow up on potential regulatory violations, he said. NOAA provides enforcement training to new and veteran observers, and observers are provided with agents’ cell phone numbers, and also with the national enforcement hotline number, he said.