Northeast US fisheries observer waiver fully ends

Published on
July 22, 2021
NOAA Fisheries observers measuring the length of a fish

An ongoing waiver of observer coverage for vessels in the U.S. Northeast has been terminated as COVID-19-related restrictions abate.

NOAA Fisheries initially released the observer waiver in June for vessels if an observer or monitor that is either fully vaccinated or has quarantined for the requisite amount of time is available. That waiver was put into place in March 2020 as COVID-19 became an increasing concern.  

The lifted waiver was for vessels without electronic monitoring, and vessels with electronic monitoring were allowed to continue without observers through 13 July. Now, all vessels, whether they have electronic monitoring or not, are required to meet observer requirements if a qualified observer is available.

“A little more than a year ago, NOAA Fisheries clarified its policy for how vessels could receive a waiver from required observer or at-sea monitor coverage. That approach was appropriate under the circumstances. However, in the United States, much has changed and improved since then,” NOAA Fisheries Acting Assistant Administrator Paul Doremus said in a release. “COVID-19 vaccines are widely available and infection rates are dropping. At this point, we need to acknowledge and adapt to improved conditions and, in turn, update our policy for issuing waivers under the emergency rule national-level criteria.”

The waiver was initially put into place as the availability of observers became increasingly challenging as COVID-19 clashed with state and federal health guidance related to the virus. With the widespread easing of the guidance, observers requirements are back in place.

“As of today, a vessel is no longer eligible for release from observer or monitor coverage under the emergency rule or regional waiver criteria if a fully vaccinated or quarantined/shelter in place observer is available,” Doremus said. “This updated policy applies to all full- and partial-coverage fisheries where observers and at-sea monitors are required. NOAA Fisheries may still waive observer and at-sea monitoring requirements under other circumstances, based on the national-level criteria.”

Doremus said the pandemic is an “evolving situation,” and that NOAA Fisheries will continue to monitor local and federal health notifications and the CDC, in case updates to the policy are needed.

Photo courtesy of NOAA  

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