The Council reviewed the 2016 Annual Report for the North Pacific Observer Program, and made recommendations for the 2018 Annual Deployment Plan (ADP), which will be developed over the summer. The Annual Report provides a scientific evaluation of the deployment of observers in 2016, to assess whether the objectives of the Observer Program have been met. The report also includes descriptive information on the program, including enforcement trends and outreach efforts, and agency recommendations. The Council commended the agency on the Annual Report, and the ability it provides to adjust and improve the program.
For 2018, the Council supports continuing with current observer deployment by gear strata (pot, longline, and trawl), but has asked for an evaluation of whether to continue separate strata by gear type for vessels delivering their catch to tender vessels. The Council has also asked for an evaluation of equal coverage deployment designs up to a baseline level of coverage, as a comparison to the 2017 method of optimizing allocation among gear types and strata based on discards and prioritizing PSC-limited fisheries. These options will be analyzed and included in the draft 2018 ADP, for Council review in October.
Pending final Secretary of Commerce approval, the 2018 ADP will be the first year to include a fully implemented electronic monitoring (EM) program. The Council already provided a recommendation in April 2017 to expand the EM pool in 2018 if funding permits. In June, the Council noted that if funding is insufficient, the ADP should prioritize longline vessels, whose data will be used for inseason management in 2018; vessels that are already equipped with EM systems; and small vessels where carrying an observer is problematic. In October, the Council will also review a preliminary methodology for splitting the observer fee among observer and EM pools; for 2018, EM will continue to operate on transition funding from NMFS, but beginning in 2019, will be paid for from the observer fee revenue.
In the enforcement chapter, the Annual Report identifies that there has been an increase in Observer Program complaints with respect to priority issues of safety and creating a hostile work environment. The Council is concerned about this trend, and encourages industry to work with the NMFS Office of Law Enforcement and observer providers to proactively engage in education and outreach. The Council also requested two changes for future Annual Reports. Beginning with the 2017 fishing year, the Council would the report to evaluate whether there is evidence of an observer effect for pelagic trawl versus non-pelagic trawl fisheries, rather than evaluating all trawl trips in aggregation. Additionally, the Council would like the reports to track progress toward estimating variance of catch and bycatch.
The Council continues to be concerned about the levels of funding for the partial coverage observer program, and resulting low sampling rates. In addition to tasking the Observer Advisory Committee to look at options to increase sampling within existing means (see observer project tasking article), the Council will request supplemental funding from NMFS to alleviate funding shortfalls and increase observer days for 2018. The Council also appreciates the opportunity to provide input to the Statement of Work for the next partial coverage observer provider contract, which is being developed by NOAA’s Acquisition and Grants Office, during the October Council meeting.
The Council reviewed the prioritized list of analytical projects related to the Observer Program, and agreed with Observer Advisory Committee (OAC) recommended changes. , the Council approved prioritizing work on two specific projects: options to address low sampling rates in partial coverage, and a scoping of data concerns and potential solutions related to vessels delivering to tenders.
- Low sampling rates: The Council endorsed the OAC’s recommendation to form a subgroup over the summer, to identify short- and long-term options that could address low sampling rates in partial coverage. The subgroup will meet by email and teleconference, and will consider whether there are short-term options that can be addressed through changes to the deployment design (e.g., through the Annual Deployment Plan); what, if any, options require changes to the partial coverage contract that should be brought into a draft Statement of Work for the revised contract; and longer-term solutions that may involve regulatory change.
- Tendering: The Council asked staff to develop a scoping paper that identifies the separate data concerns related to vessels delivering to tenders (e.g., whether they are concerns of observed vessels fishing in a manner that is unrepresentative of those that are not observed, or whether delivering to a tender is affecting sampling of salmon bycatch.) The paper should then link these concerns with solutions that have been evaluated, are being implemented in 2017, or have been suggested as possible. Staff will work with industry groups to vet these and other potential solutions.
Staff contact is Diana Evans.
The Council is soliciting for a representative of the western GOA trawl fleet to become a member of the Observer Advisory Committee. The OAC’s next meeting is tentatively scheduled for September 19-20, in Seattle. If you are interested, please contact Diana Evans at the Council office (907-271-2815 or firstname.lastname@example.org) by July 28, 2017.