NOAA Fisheries ending Northeast observer waivers, preparing to restart program

Published on
June 23, 2020

NOAA Fisheries and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s (NEFSC) Fisheries Sampling Branch is preparing for a 1 July restart of the Northeast Observer Program.

NOAA Fisheries first announced on 20 March that it was waiving observer requirements in light of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak. That initial waiver was extended on 29 May, with a planned restart date of 1 July.

That date is now fast approaching, and the science center has asserted it is preparing methods to safely resume observation requirements.

“The Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Fisheries Sampling Branch has been preparing for the 1 July restart of fisheries monitoring Northeast Fisheries by working through internal protocols and processes to ensure shoreside components of the program can operate,” NOAA Fisheries announced in an update on 22 June. “They are also coordinating with observer providers to develop deployment plans that support the health and safety of observers, fishermen, and others in the fishing industry, in light of the COVID-19 virus.”

A letter written by Jon Hare, the science and research director for NEFSC, details the efforts the center is taking to prepare for the resumption of observation requirements. Hare wrote that the center is developing a “comprehensive plan” to resume operations of fisheries monitoring.

Included in those plans are waivers on restrictions governing the number of times an observer can cover the same vessel, to allow observers to minimize the amount of times they must switch between vessels – thus lessening the spread of any potential COVID-19 cases. The center will also “follow the sea day schedule and coverage targets laid out for the 2020 fishing year,” with the targets not increasing to “make up for unused days during the waiver period.”

Vessels with electronic monitoring will not be assigned any observers or monitors after the waiver lifts, and observers and at-sea monitors “will be deployed to vessels using the Pre-Trip Notification (PTNS), Scallop Vessel Call-in System (VCIC), and port intercepts (i.e., observers selecting trips for coverage in the ports).”

The science center is also training observers in COVID-19 mitigation, minimizing observer travel, requiring 14-day isolation periods before first deployment, requiring pre-trip health screenings, requiring PPE, and establishing protocols for detecting, reporting, and acting on COVID-19 symptoms.

“Observers and at-sea monitors are an essential component of commercial fishing operations and provide critical information that is necessary to keep fisheries open and to provide sustainable seafood to our nation,” Hare wrote.

Hare added that the science center plans to continue to monitor all relevant local and state public health notifications, and Center for Disease Control updates.

“Should our observer and at-sea monitor redeployment change, we will announce those changes as quickly and clearly as practicable,” Hare wrote. “We are committed to the public health and safety of fishermen, observers, and others while fulfilling our mission to maintain our nation's seafood supply and conserving marine life.” 

Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries

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