The Council reviewed changes to observer deployment and data collection this year in the full and partial coverage program related to COVID-19, presented by the agency. After a report from its Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (FMAC), the Council provided recommendations to NMFS about re-introducing observers into the partial coverage observer program as well as developing the 2021 Annual Deployment Plan (ADP). The Council commends and supports NMFS’ response thus far to COVID-19 relative to the observer program.
The full coverage fleets typically provide 90% of the observed data and have thus far maintained observer coverage in the 2020 calendar year with industry working closely with the Observer Program and observer providers. Observer coverage has also been maintained via the pelagic trawl electronic monitoring (EM) Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) covering most of the pelagic trawl fleet, and all partial coverage catcher vessels operating out of Kodiak are subject to observer coverage under the 2020 ADP.
NMFS put forward an early proposal to the FMAC and Council for re-introducing observers into the partial coverage program this year comprised of two components: 1) using a modified vessel selection where, if a vessel was randomly selected for coverage in ODDS, every trip taken by that vessel would be selected for coverage under a specified time period; and 2) increasing the fixed gear EM selection rate from 30% to 100%.
The Council emphasized the tradeoffs outlined in the May 2020 FMAC report that weigh concerns about re-introducing observers into the partial coverage category in 2020 against the utility of limited data that would be collected primarily from fixed gear fleets. If NMFS proceeds, the Council recommends the following approach:
- Reintroduce partial coverage using trip selection out of a select number of key ports (i.e., in addition to Kodiak).
- Maintain the current coverage and selection rates for vessels carrying EM.
- Given the limited opportunities for outreach, focus on communicating proposed changes to affected fleets.
The Council further recommends NMFS place a high priority on developing a 2021 ADP that provides necessary data and is also responsive to continued COVID-19 challenges and Council priorities, particularly improving cost efficiencies in the partial coverage category.
Staff contact is Kate Haapala. Staff contact specifically for EM issues is Anna Henry.