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.
Please contact us!
Public Access to Observer Data
The Magnuson-Stevens Act is up for reauthorization and we must ensure that the public maintains adequate access to fisheries observer data and information, including Electronic Monitoring data. When the MS Act was last reauthorized in 2007, they took this away. After 5 years, NOAA made a miserable attempt to implement regulations in 2012 to match the intent of this inherently flawed Congressional act - but not without overwhelming public dissent on the matter. Please see the Public Access page for more information.
Go here for the
International Observer Bill of Rights
and Codes of Conduct for Responsible Observer Programmes -
Observer Health and Safety
Seabird Regulations for US West Coast Longliners; Trawlers give them the slip
October 2014: Finally NMFS is implementing seabird regulations for west coast fisheries. The proposed measures were modeled after Alaska seabird avoidance measures. Unfortunately. in Alaska, the pollock at-sea processors (factory trawlers) completely escaped monitoring and mitigation of seabird strikes of their cable wires. This is a serious threat to albatrosses, especially with continuous offal discharge from the boat, which attracts the foraging birds. Alaska lags way behind the rest of the world regarding seabird mitigation for trawlers (0 seabird regulations, 0 monitoring, unknown levels of under-reporting of seabird mortality). Additionally, the Alaska regulations require fishermen to uphold material and performance standards of their bird-scaring device ("streamer lines"). Yet, NMFS tells observers in the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program specifically that they don't want them reporting on compliance to these requirements. Now NMFS is copying these measures for west coast longliners, again giving mid-water trawlers (Pacific hake trawlers) a free pass, despite evidence that this fishery is likely to pose serious threats to albatrosses. It appears that NMFS is avoiding implicating specific gear types or fishing practices that cause seabird bycatch. Read APO's comments here.
North Pacific: OAC Meeting, EM Issues
Observer Advisory Committee Meeting, Seattle, Washington, September 18-19, 2014. Call-in to offer testimony or simply to listen in: (907) 271-2896 Time and Place: see Agenda
Materials: Draft Annual Deployment Plan (ADP) 2015, Letter from Freezer Longline Coalition regarding cutting back lead observer requirements and NMFS Response; Letter from Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association (ALFA) reporting on crew fatigue and observer safety concerns; Status summary of observer program-related projects. Also see the Electronic Monitoring Working Group (EMWG) agenda, meeting in Anchorage scheduled the following week.
Observer Advisory Committee Meeting, Anchorage, Alaska, 28-29 May 2014
OAC Agenda; Go to the Council Packet to access associated documents. B4 is the Enforcement Report that describes an increase in observer harassment and interference; C2 is the NMFS Annual Report on the Restructured Program and a letter describing attrition of experienced observers; C3 for information on ways vessels may be gaming the system by combining multiple trips and offloading catch to tender vessels instead of on-shore; and C7 for a proposed amendment to the FMP regarding Pacific Cod Community Development Quota.
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. NMFS provided us with it's report on the Southeast programs 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).
The OIG requested NMFS to remove this report from the National Observer Program's website within a month of it's release. The OIG requested NMFS expand the inquiry to all observer programs but the "action" items were downgraded to "recommendations". Without requirements and deadlines, the status quo is likely to remain in place. The new national review was published in March 2014 but it appears that the only concrete benefit out of this entire process has been a published requirement by NMFS that SE Observer Programs must report violations. The same players are still in charge, so it's doubtful any real change will occur.
Meanwhile, two more observers were fired shortly after the release of the SE Inquiry (above) in May and June 2013 for relatively minor causes and we believe it was in retaliation for their participation in the NMFS survey of observers during the initial inquiry into the SE Observer Programs (see Appendix 11). Not only was the director of the SE regional science center one of three of the investigators, but NMFS published the observers' responses verbatim with no attempt to protect their anonymity. Both of them filed a wrongful firing complaint with the OIG and both complaints, as well as Mr. Combs' were dismissed by the OIG in December 2013 and January 2014.
Meanwhile, APO filed another complaint against the POP and NMFS for allowing an observer (since deceased) who was known to be taking payments from the vessels, while working as an observer. Here is our letter which served as a formal complaint to the OIG, sent April 21, 2014. This is currently under investigation.
During this entire process, from 2011 - 2014, the Head of the OIG, Todd Zinser, was himself being investigated for the retaliation against whistleblower employees in his department. It is not at all surprising that all of our complaints were ignored or whitewashed by the OIG and NMFS. See the Congressional Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's letter to President Obama, asking for Zinser's removal. Given our experience for the last 3 years, we have no doubt in our minds that nothing will become of any investigation unless President Obama fires Zinser and orders an overhaul of their protocols for investigating fraud within NOAA.
March 2013: House 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", and 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, through the creation of a separate position of "at-sea monitors", is contrary to regional, national, and international policy and best practices.
APO Comments Amendment 16, Standard Bycatch Reporting Methodology (SBRM), Omnibus Amendment for the NE Region, September 10, 2007
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.
Liz Mitchell, Ebol Rojas and Alfred "Bubba" Cook