Welcome to the APO's Home Page
Our goal is to provide a comprehensive source of information for observers, and the public, on issues related to fishery observer programs.
What fisheries observers are not: Assault, harassment, interference and bribery attempts are not an acceptable condition of being employed as an observer. These are federal and international violations of the law. These laws are intended to allow observers to collect unbiased biological data and specimens on board commercial vessels, processing plants and other monitored sampling platforms. The observer position has been created as a primary function of federal, provincial, state and regional governments in their task to objectively manage public ocean resources. Observer programs and observer employers should support observers in their ability to carry out these duties. Observers should be well-informed of these laws and the process for which violations will be prosecuted. It is in the best interest of fisheries resource managers to support and protect observers' welfare.
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NMFS Completes Internal Inquiry into Southeast Fisheries Science Center Observer Program Mismanagement
May 2013: In December 2011, the APO and PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) filed a formal complaint with the Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General (OIG) regarding mismanagement of SE United States regional observer programs, under the management of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The OIG referred the investigation back to NMFS to conduct an administrative inquiry. Our complaint was based on a statement made by a fisheries observer who reported he was fired without cause, as well as multiple levels of mismanagement from both regional managers of NMFS and the observer employer for all SE observer programs, IAP Worldwide Services. We subsequently interviewed other observers, some who worked in other Southeast programs. The APO filed, on Mr. Jonathan Comb's behalf, another OIG complaint for his wrongful firing on December 8, 2011, through the OIG's Whistleblower Hotline, which is still pending investigation. NMFS provided us with this report on April 15, 2013. Please see the entire report divided into sections below:
NMFS Summary Report of its investigation
Appendices 2-4: Internal Reviews; Reporting Protocols
Appendices 6-8: Investigation Team; Investigation Timeline; BP Oil Spill Confusion; Questionairres
Appendix 9: Interview Questions for Southeast Fisheries Science Center Staff
Appendix 10: Incidental Take Permits
Appendix 11: Observers (n=12) Interview Responses
Appendix 12: Observer Accommodation Incidents Reported 2007-2011 (n=21);Investigation Team Declaration of Independence (note: the investigation team was supposed to be independent of the Southeast Region of NMFS but the SEFSC Deputy Director was included on the team, thereby compromising the integrity of the investigation's independence).
International Observer Bill of Rights:
The original Observer Bill of Rights (OBR concerns observers' health, safety, welfare and professionalism and was published in the proceedings of the 2000 Canada-US Fisheries Observer Program Workshop, St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. A team of observers and observer advocates are working to update and expand the OBR to the increasing corps of observers worldwide and establish an International Observer Bill of Rights (IOBR), with supporting documents on Code of Conduct for Responsible Observer Programmes - Observer Health and Safety (ROPHS) and Stakeholder Responsibilities (ROPSR). The IOBR outlines observers' rights. ROPHS outlines minimum health and safety standards for observers. ROPSR outlines stakeholder responsibilities. Stakeholders are considered here to be observers, observer programmes/regulatory authorities, observer employers and monitored entities (vessels, offshore oil platforms, etc.). These documents will be presented at the International Fisheries Observer and Monitoring conference this year in Chile . Please note that these are living documents and we will receive comments at any time, but we especially would like to hear from observers before the conference (8-12 April 2013) so that we can incorporate their comments.
The documents are located on Google Drive. Please first read the "Instructions for Comment", which also instructs how to post comments anonymously. If anonymity is desired, make sure that you SIGN OUT of your Google or Gmail e-mail account before going to the document links. Otherwise, just click on the Google Drive document links below and send us your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please have patience as we get these documents translated. If you know of someone who could translate into other languages, please let us know. Thank you.
IOBR Instructions:(English) (Spanish) (Portuguese
ROPSR: (English) (Spanish) (Portuguese)
March 2013: House Natural Resources Committee - First Hearing on the Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act
Fishermen have the ear of our politicians and were the only stakeholders present at this "public" hearing on the Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, last modified in 2007. This is the first hearing on this subject and much of the discussion was about lowering observer costs, including replacing observers with Electronic Monitoring. Republican Congressmen and Committee Member Don Young offered some contemptible and insulting remarks about observers, as he spoke to the panel of fishermen, jesting that they can "throw observers in the trawl net to solve the problem". To listen to the archived hearing and read written testimony, please visit the Natural Resources Committee website. APO submitted written testimony in response.
October 2012: APO is recruiting board members! Please see our flyer and contact us if you have questions.
August 2012: NMFS extended the proposed rule on Observer Data Confidentiality to October 21, 2012: See the notice here
The original proposed rule was published on May 23, 2012 with a public comment period of one month. NMFS gave a 60-day extension (to August 21, 2012) for public comment after much opposition to the original one-month comment period. On July 26, NMFS again extended the comment period to October 21, 2012. This rule goes against open government, would shield fishery management practices and blur critical information needed to analyze fishery impacts on the marine environment. For more information, please visit our page on Public Access. Please sign on to this letter to show your support for public access to observer data. Just e-mail APO and we will add your name to the list. Here are the organizations that are showing support.
June 2012: North Pacific: NMFS proposed rule on the restructured program: APO comments; See what others are saying about the restructured program
The Observer Advisory Committee will hold a meeting September 17 - 18 in Seattle, Washington to discuss the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program 2013 Deployment Plan. The Deployment Plan will explain the data needs and observer placement plan for the previously unmonitored fleet of groundfish vessels fishing in Alaska, primarily fishing vessels under 60 feet.
May 2012: Volunteers Needed
There are countless opportunities for observers to become involved in the APO's activities and to help us organize observers. APO is seeking a NP Chapter Director to direct the activities and APO outreach to North Pacific Observers. Brian Burton, who works for AOI, has led the charge for 2 years now and will be stepping down but has graciously agreed to hold on until someone else replaces him. We are also seeking Observer Representatives from each contractor and/or fishery. Please click here for more information.
March 2012: North Pacific:
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting will be held on March 26 - April 3, Anchorage, Alaska. A report on the progress for the plans to restructure the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program will be presented Wednesday morning during the B-2 Session, "NMFS Management Report". You can view it live on-line: Contact Diana Evans, NPFMC staff for more information: (907) 271-2809 or e-mail at Diana.Evans@noaa.gov. Please read the NMFS letter to the Council regarding Electronic Monitoring and review our EM page here.
7th IFOMC; April 2013; Chile
The 7th International Fisheries Observer and Monitoring Conference (IFOMC) is to be held in Viña del Mar, Chile; April 8-12, 2013. Link to our IFOMC Resources page for information about the forthcoming conference as well as resources from all prior conferences.
December 2011: Request for NOAA Inspector General to investigate wrongful practices of Southeast Observer Programs
APO and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) wrote a letter to NOAA's Inspector General requesting an investigation into the practices of the Observer Programs managed by the Southeast Region of NMFS. The request for investigation is based on a statement by a Southeast Fisheries Observer in the Pelagic Observer Program, as well as comments made by other Observers anonymously. The allegations accuse NMFS of ignoring witnessed fisheries violations and failure to enforce laws that support the safety and welfare of Fisheries Observers. Please see PEER's Press Release.
October 2011: North Pacific
Please see the announcement for an Observer Representative to join the Observer Advisory Committee (OAC), a team that advises the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program (NPGOP) issues. Also visit the Electronic Monitoring page for updates on the Council's push to replace Observers with EM in Alaska's small boat groundfish and halibut fleet, which have never been monitored.
September 2011: North Pacific
Draft regulations for the "restructured" NPGOP released:
Draft groundfish regulations for the "restructured" North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program, requiring observer coverage for the small boat groundfish and halibut fleet in Alaska have been released. There's likely to be some confusion as this program unfolds, as more than 1000 vessels will require monitoring for the first time, either with an observer or with electronic monitoring. Many details remain obscure but we look forward to the results.
August 2011: Upcoming meetings on Electronic Monitoring
Held in Seattle September 8-9 and 15-16 - national and regional (Alaska) efforts to implement Electronic Monitoring.
Click on Observer Data > Electronic Monitoring for details.
Observernet Shuts Down:
As of May 2011, Observernet.org is sadly no longer available for observers to network with each other. Dave Wagenheim put in countless hours toward maintaining the Observernet forums but because of low useage, he has decided to shut it down. Observers are often dispersed and use various forms of social networking to communicate with each other but rarely coalesce as a unified force. The APO Facebook page is one way to come together to discuss observer issues. While it doesn't replace all that Observernet offered, we can use this page as a means of communicating on contractor and labor issues, observer program policy and revisions, the efficacy and practicality of sampling protocols, impacts of fishing and fishery management practices, announcements, etc. Just do a search for the APO on Facebook and join in the discussions.
November 2010: North Pacific
NMFS Finalizes NPGOP Rule on Observer Conduct and other Rules
November 2010: East Coast
NOAA's Catch Share Policy allows transfer of catch shares to more harmful fishing practices
January 2010: Northeast
Catch Share policy lowers observer program standards
The Northeast monitoring program, under Amendment 16 of the Northeast Groundfish Fishery, called the "Northeast Fisheries At-Sea Monitoring Program" (NEFAMP), lowers hiring standards, reduces training of the "monitors", employs basic duties with minimal objectives that will not adequately monitor bycatch. Creating a new monitoring program with lower standards than the established Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (NEFOP), is duplicative and complicates oversight of data quality. This is fiscally irresponsible and less efficient than augmenting the current observer program in the Northeast. The lowering of observer program standards is contrary to regional, national, and international policy and best practices.
December 2009: U.S. National
Public Access to Observer Data
NMFS partially responded this month (October 2010) to two FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests by the APO regarding public access to observer data. Please see the Public Access page for updates and indexes of released documents.
Please help support our work by becoming an APO member!
Observer Members - $15/year - This membership is for current or former observers. With your membership fee, please tell us briefly about your observer work history.
Supporting members - $10/year - This membership is for fisheries management agency personnel and members of the public. If you are not an observer but support our work, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Donations from either membership of $35 or more will receive a t-shirt with the APO logo on front. Please indicate size desired.
How are APO dues and donations utilized?The majority of APO's activities are performed by volunteers; however, there are a few activities which require income:
- Mail and photocopy services;
- Website hosting and maintenance;
- Travel to conferences, council meetings, etc.;
- Purchasing promotional materials;
- Tax preparation.
Current Board Members
Alfred "Bubba" Cook