Monitoring, Control & Surveillance of Commercial Fisheries Resources

The Association for Professional Observers (APO) is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, non-governmental organization whose mission is to strengthen fisheries observer programs through advocacy and education.

Our Mission

image of ocean water with fish swimming

Our goal is to provide an important source of information about fisheries observer programs and the information that observers collect.

It is our intention that the results of our activities will:

  • improve the ability of observers to safely collect critical baseline fisheries management data free from harassment and interference;
  • promote the best quality observer data for the purposes of conservation and the responsible management of marine living resources; and
  • to encourage public transparency of observer program management and observer data and information.

What is APO?

Professional observers face many difficult challenges working alongside commercial fishermen in what is considered to be among the most dangerous occupations in the world.  In this atmosphere observers collect base-line biological data used by fisheries managers to make science-based decisions, which is vital for management of sustainable fisheries among many competing stakeholders.  In order to secure the independence and dependability of these observers, adequate support is necessary.  This support must come from the agencies in charge of managing the fisheries, the  employers who hire observers, and compliance from the fishing industry. 

APO was founded in 1995 by a handful of dedicated observers in the North Pacific to address the many concerns they had about their health, safety, welfare and professionalism.  In 1997, the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program was the first observer program to unionize.  APO has since collaborated with, and advocated for, observers internationally with an aim to promote universal standards in observer health, safety and welfare to support quality fisheries management data collection.

Observer Safety

APO engages with national and international fora to advance the safety and welfare of observers and their worker rights so that they may collect this important information free from harassment, assault, bribery attempts and other forms of interference.

Public Access to Observer Information

APO advocates for public transparency of observer data and information and for the effectiveness of observer program management.

Observer Liaison

APO acts as a liaison between observers, and their respective observer programs or observer employer, and the observers’ families, if necessary, when issues arise.

About Observers

An Observer is a person who is authorized by a regulatory authority to collect scientific information to assist in the monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS) of commercial exploitation of marine resources. The Observer must be financially independent of the industry being monitored.  Observers generally do not have enforcement powers, but their duties often involve the collection of enforcement-related information.

Observers are tasked with a wide range of duties that are primarily related to commercial fishing.  Other industries impacting the ocean environment may be monitored as well, such as dredging, oil platform monitoring and seismic research. Observers are typically either hired by third party contractual agreements or directly by a government agency. However, sometimes observers are hired as independent contractors. Regardless of employer, observers generally work independently and unsupervised in an isolated and sometimes contentious environment and a variety of entities may negatively impact their ability to complete their duties.  

See Observer Program Reviews, Inquiries and Investigations