NOAA waives some observer requirements as COVID-19 concerns mount

NOAA Fisheries announced on 20 March that it is waiving observer requirements for vessels with Northeast fishing permits until 4 April, with the new waiver being evaluated weekly as the COVID-19 outbreak continues.

The announcement comes as multiple fisheries in the Northeast U.S. are grappling with the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak, which range from the aforementioned switch to no longer requiring observers to a the delay of fishing seasons.

“As part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, NOAA Fisheries is temporarily waiving the requirement for vessels with Northeast fishing permits to carry a fishery observer or at-sea monitor,”  Michael Pentony, the regional administrator for the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, wrote in a letter to stakeholders.

According to the letter, the temporary waiver comes as a result of difficulties related to both securing observers and adding additional personnel to boats during a time when the government has been cautioning against people gathering in close proximity.

“The availability and deployment of observers is becoming increasingly challenging. The action is also consistent with current federal and state health guidance,” Pentony wrote. “The health and well-being of fishermen, observers, and supporting staff is not only a human health concern, but also essential to securing our nation’s seafood production.”

Current trips at sea with an observer are unaffected, and all reporting and pre-trip notification requirements are still in place, the letter added. In addition to waiving observer requirements, port intercepts will be temporarily suspended. Vessels using electronic monitoring will be unaffected, as the waiver “applies to human observers only.”

During the wavier, the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office will also do the following, according to the letter:

  • Monitor fishing activity in comparison to when observers have been deployed, to track continued compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.
  • Evaluate weekly observer availability, ability to travel, and level of fishing effort and landings.
  • Monitor for changes in current health and safety guidelines that are expected to increase observer availability.
  • Monitor fishing effort and landings, which could be indicators that the temporary waiver of observer requirements could be ended.

“The waiver will be in effect through April 4, and future extensions of this waiver will be evaluated weekly,” Pentony wrote. 

Photo courtesy of NOAA


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