Options for EM Offered by NOAA

Beginning next year, Alaska fishermen will have the option to use an electronic monitoring (EM) system in lieu of a NOAA Fisheries observer, as the federal agency integrates EM into the North Pacific Observer Program.
NOAA Fisheries made the announcement on August 8, after the final rule waspublished in the Federal Register. The rule will be effective September 7, 2017.

Information gathered by observers while on board these commercial vessels is crucial to sustainable management of Alaska’s multi-billion-dollar fishing industry.

NOAA Fisheries restructured the North Pacific Observer Program in 2013 to place fisheries observers on small boats between 40 and 60 feet, and those harvesting halibut in Alaska.

Some small vessel owners and operators have advocated for the choice to use an EM system rather than carry an observer. They worked with NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to develop the EM technology that works best in Alaska. The federal agency will use EM to collect catch and bycatch data from vessels while they are fishing.

“This program is a first step toward automating observer data for the very specialized North Pacific fleet,” said Jim Balsiger, NOAA Fisheries assistant administrator for the Alaska Region.

NOAA”s final rule allows EM technology to be available only to owners and operators of fixed gear (hook and line, and pot gear) vessels in the partial coverage category of the observer program, in which the agency places observers on randomly selected vessels. In the full coverage category, observers are required on all boats, in addition to separate requirements for video monitoring systems for compliance purposes only, not catch estimation.

Participation in EM is voluntary, and each year vessel owners or operators will need to apply by November 1 to participate.

Vessels meeting eligibility criteria will be placed in the EM selection pool and NOAA Fisheries will randomly select trips among participating boats.. Those who volunteer would be responsible for making sure the EM system is working and to send the video storage devices back to NOAA Fisheries for review. Vessel owners and operators who do not wish to participate in the EM program will remain subject to observer coverage.