North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program (NPGOP) Overhaul
Project OverviewThe National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) is re-examining the possibility of restructuring the US North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program (NPGOP). The NPGOP issues APO is most concerned with that have remained unresolved since the NPGOP's inception in 1990 are:
Conflicts of Interest: The delivery of this program lacks an "arms length" between the vessel/vessel's company and the contractor hiring the observer. The vessel's company pays the contractor for the observer. Even with 100% observer coverage, observers sometimes experience harassment, attempted bribery, or attempts by vessel personnel to alter the outcome of their monitoring efforts in the process of carrying out their duties. If there is a problem between the observer and the vessel, the current system allows the vessel/company to have significantly more influence over the contractor than the observer does. Exacerbating this is NMFS' lack of oversight over contractor performance and NMFS' lack of obligations to observers, especially with regard to safeguarding observers from contractor retaliation. The observer program has stated that they haven't performed observer contractor evaluations in "many, many years" and have never reported on the problems observers face with their contractors.
Data Bias: While great lengths are taken to reduce individual bias in observer data collection, sometimes with extraordinary expectations of observers, the program itself has had major data biases and gaps in observer coverage. Coverage is arbitrarily based on the size of vessel. Major portions of Alaska's groundfish fleet (vessels <60 feet, 18.3m), and 100% of the halibut fishery are not monitored. Vessels 60-125 feet (18.3 - 38.1m) require 30% coverage but vessels are allowed to choose when and where they receive coverage, inducing additional bias in observer placement. Also, some vessels have physically altered their vessels to be just under 60 feet to avoid carrying an observer. Huge data gaps exist because of the existing service delivery model.
October 2009: Council Alternatives submitted for analysis
October 2010: Environmental Assessment/ Regulatory Impact Review (EA/RIR)
October 2010: Council Final Motion - The Council prefers Alternative 3, which would not have any bearing, financial or otherwise, on vessels with 100%+ observer coverage. This alternative is "business as usual" for large corporate fishing interests. It addresses the data bias of vessels with <100% observer coverage but doesn't address the longstanding conflict of interest mentioned above.
Contact InformationPlease do not hesitate to contact us with your questions or feedback, and if you have any interest in participating in the developments of this project.
Liz Mitchell: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Wormington: email@example.com
- Magnuson-Stevens (MSFCM) Act
- MRAG Americas. 2000. Independent Review of the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program
- US Department of Commerce Government Accountability Office Report: NMFS Observer Programs Should Improve Data Quality, Performance Monitoring and Outreach Efforts: GAO Final Audit Report No. IPE-15721/March 2004
- APO Letter to NMFS opposing the Northeast efforts to model their observer programs after the NPGOP Service Delivery Model
- Current Council restructuring document (Dec. 2008)
- North Pacific Fishery Management Council Observer Advisory Committee Reports