At their June 2019 meeting in Sitka, the Council received a presentation on the Observer Program Annual Report for 2018 and a report from the Fishery Monitoring Advisory Committee (FMAC). The Annual Report provides a scientific evaluation of the deployment of observers in 2018, to evaluate if deployment expectations were met that year. The report also includes information describing the program, enforcement trends, outreach efforts, and agency recommendations for developing the 2020 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 2020 ADP listed in section 7.1 of the Annual Report (p. 92-94). If external funds are available, the Council recommends further expanding the electronic monitoring (EM) selection pool in 2020 by up to 30 more vessels and including tests of alternative EM systems and data service delivery models. It was also noted that Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission is working to determine what is necessary to accommodate more vessels in the Fixed Gear EM pool and to date has hired two new reviewers to focus exclusively on Alaska EM review.
The Council reviewed FMAC recommendations on observer analytical tasking and supported the FMAC recommendation to initiate a discussion paper about shoreside sampling in the Fixed Gear EM pool. This recommendation leverages ongoing work by the FMAC partial coverage Subgroup to integrate monitoring tools, as well as work at the Trawl EM Committee to draft an application for an exempted fishing permit (EFP) for testing EM on trawl vessels in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. The Council noted the discussion paper should scope a shoreside sampling program, in conjunction with some minimal level of at-sea observer coverage, to complement Fixed Gear EM.
The Council also supported the FMAC recommendation to remove the “Observer Disembark Location” analysis from the tasking list and take no further action on this item, because this issue has largely been resolved through the use of EM. Additionally, the Council supported the FMAC recommendation to prioritize an assessment of how biological information currently collected by observers is used in stock assessment.
The Council provided a few specific recommendations for next year’s Annual Report. The Council recommends the next Annual Report (reviewing 2019) continue to refine cost metrics and funding information in Chapter 2; continue to include an evaluation of observer effects separately in pelagic and non-pelagic trawl fisheries; and, incorporate the analysis of observer statement incident rates in future reports. Members noted the importance of analyzing observer statement and incident rates to get a more holistic view of the need for and enforcement of observer harassment and other issues. The Council also encourages NMFS to continue working closely with FMAC and the industry prior to implementing potential future changes to the Observer Declare and Deploy System (ODDS).
The Council acknowledged the importance of the agency continuing to work to present performance metrics of the partial coverage program in a way that both the Council and the general public can better understand.
Finally, the Council noted appreciation of the high quality work taking place through collaboration between industry members and agency staff via meetings of the FMAC and the subgroup. Members voiced support for the continued involvement of a subgroup of the FMAC in the ongoing work to explore integration of monitoring tools to increase coverage and contain costs, as described in the FMAC report. Staff contact for observer issues is Diana Evans.