Wednesday, March 25, 2020

NOAA Fisheries Emergency Action Waives Some Observer Coverage

Federal fisheries officials responding to concerns voiced by longline halibut and black cod fishermen in Alaska have issued an emergency action providing authority, on a case by case basis, to waive observer coverage in some instances. The emergency action also waive some training and other program requirements while meeting conservation needs and providing an ongoing supply of fish to markets.

The emergency action is being taken for the stated purpose of protecting public health and to ensure the safety of fishermen, observers and others, according to NOAA Fisheries officials. The emergency action applies, however, only in three circumstances. These include:

• When the provider of observers does not have sufficient observers to staff a fleet, such as if the observers are under quarantine;

• When providers cannot physically get observers to fishing vessel departure points, perhaps because of travel restrictions or shelter in place guidance; or

• When providers don’t have enough trained observers because NOAA could not offer training due to building access restrictions or other limitations.

Alternative fishery management measures will be considered should such circumstances arise.

Concerns over putting observers on smaller vessels in the halibut and black cod fisheries arose because of lack of space allowing for adherence to precaution guidelines issued because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The problem with NOAA’s emergency action guidelines, said veteran halibut fisherman Dan Falvey of Sitka, Alaska, is that the waiver requests must come from the observer provider.

“You generally need electronic monitoring and observers to provide complete at-sea data, but in this emergency (the pandemic) it is prudent to not employ observers on boats where they don’t have separate bunk space or eating facilities,” he said. “The small boat fleet should receive a waiver.”

Falvey also noted that one of the mandates issued this week by Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy requires quarantine when individuals first reach the state, but it doesn’t prevent the observers from traveling from community to community once they reach the state.

There are enough vessels with EM on board so that this year it would be prudent to waive observers unless the vessels chosen to carry observers can be provided with separate eating and sleeping facilities, he commented.

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