The Council received a presentation about the Observer Program Annual Report for 2017 and a report from the Observer Advisory Committee (the OAC, which will in future be renamed the Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee). The Annual Report provides a scientific evaluation of the deployment of observers in 2017, to assess whether the objectives of the Observer Program were met that year. The report also includes information describing the program, enforcement trends, outreach efforts, and agency recommendations for developing the 2019 Annual Deployment Plan (ADP). The Council commends the agency on the Annual Report, and the ability it provides to adjust and improve the program.
The Council supports NMFS’ recommendations for the 2019 ADP listed in section 7.1 of the Annual Report, including keeping the same 2018 deployment strata for 2019 (i.e., trawl, hook-and-line, pot, tender trawl, tender pot, electronic monitoring (EM)). If funds are available, the Council recommends expanding the EM selection pool to a maximum of 165 vessels in 2019, and continuing the 30% trip selection rate. Additionally, the Council requests that the draft 2019 ADP include an evaluation of a new approach to determine observer coverage rates—referred to during the meetings as a ‘weighted gear-specific hurdle’ approach—that provides a minimum base level of coverage in each gear stratum (the gear-specific hurdle), and then optimizes any remaining coverage among the strata based on discards, catch of prohibited species, and a new element: the degree to which a regulatory area has low fishing effort. This evaluation will allow the Council and the agency to consider, in October, different approaches for how to best optimize funds in the program, while continuing to meet the standards of the existing program sampling design (e.g., collecting data for catch accounting, stock assessment, etc.).
The Council also provided specific recommendations for next year’s Annual Report. Given the strong interest in understanding prohibited Species Catch (PSC) in trawl fisheries, the Council continues to request that the next Annual Report distinguish pelagic and non-pelagic trawl trips when reviewing performance metrics to monitor for an observer effect. Also, the next report should include more details about EM implementation, including comparing the cost per day of EM and observers over time. The Council encourages continued engagement of the industry in EM development and implementation.
In the Annual Report presentation on enforcement, the Council learned that there were fewer statements received by the Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) during 2017 than in prior years, suggesting overall improvement, perhaps creditable to an increased number of officers in the field. At the same time, it was noted that some issues, especially sexual violence, are known to go unreported or be reported late. The Council appreciates and acknowledges preliminary results from survey work on un(der)-reported issues, which suggest a disparate work environment for female and male observers. The Council encourages efforts to further understand work conditions so that solutions might be developed.
The Council acknowledges and supports the continued involvement of a subgroup of the OAC in the ongoing analysis to adjust the partial coverage observer fee, as described in the OAC report. An Initial Review Draft of the fee analysis is anticipated in December. Staff contact for observer issues is Elizabeth Figus.