Observer Labor and Professionalism

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Background and Objectives

The work of the Observer Labor and Professionalism APO focus area is centered about initiating and managing projects intended to identify initiatives associated with fostering heightened observer professionalism and addressing issues that have bearing on the fair and equitable labor rights of Fisheries Observers. 

In May 1995, five Fisheries Observers waiting for vessel assignments out of Kodiak, Alaska - discussing the poor treatment of observers by observer providers in the region - decided to take action by founding the Association for Professional Observers (APO). In September 1995, eleven observers testified to the regional fisheries council and put a voice and a human face on a group who up to that point had been invisible. In 1996, observers rallied for, and got a seat on the Advisory Panel to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council and soon thereafter the APO facilitated observer representation through with a regional Labor Union, vastly improving wages and working conditions at the time. In the mid to late 1990's the APO helped a great deal with raising observers' voices and helping lay the ground work for improvements to be made to US North Pacific Observer working conditions. 

The struggle to ensure basic employment rights for Observers continued on a national and international level thereafter with the APO leading the way. The idea for drafting an "Observer Bill of Rights" started with the APO and came to a head at the 2nd Conference in the International Fisheries Observer and Monitoring Conference (IFOMC) series - the Canada/US Fisheries Observer Workshop - held in St. John's Newfoundland in June 2000. An APO Board member at the time, Kim Dietrich, and a prior APO Board member - then US National Observer Program (NOP) representative - Teresa Turk together coordinated a substantial break-out session (workshop) early on during this conference and the Observer Bill of Rights (OBR) document was formulated, virtually overnight, from this workshop. 

The following day, the outlined initiatives "Observer Rights" in the OBR were presented to the conference delegation by two Canadian observers (Reuben Beazley and Scott Buchanan) and two American observers (Kim Dietrich and Keith Davis). Following the panel presentation, there was a lengthy question and answer session clarifying some of the presented items while outlining possible provisions that may help observer programs accommodate these "rights". Nevertheless, all OBR discussions were presented simply as suggestions. 

In the following years, some overall progress had been made in regards to many of the "Rights" outlined in the OBR though progress had been slow and in some cases (especially with emerging programs) steps were made backwards. 

In 2006, the Observer Professionalism Working Group (OPWG), established by the IFOMC in order to formalize the working knowledge of Fisheries Observer employment (professionalism) practices on an international basis, was founded by Teresa Turk and Keith Davis on the principles that were established by the OBR. This group has made some progress over the last few years towards outlining practices that are desirable and work well at fostering the proficient professional development of observers and the observer profession and produced a report describing all of their findings through the 5th Conference. The OPWG continued it's work into the 6th IFOMC with hosting an Observer Professionalism Workshop there meant to conduct "Focused Interviews" themed at: Outlining Avenues that Foster the Recruitment and Retention of a Professional, Equitably Employed, Workforce of Observers. 

At the OPWG-hosted workshop at the 5th IFOMC, May 2007, The OPWG stated: 


"With the current state of our world's fisheries, it is very important to assure that our worldwide observer programs have a solid foundation. By outlining and categorizing the basic working employment practices of fisheries observers, we can hope to stabilize a heightened stature of the profession, which will have direct bearing on the quality of the data products that come from observer data collection, raising the confidence and respect level of the observer profession among the data end users' the scientist and fisheries managers who create models and implement policy upon observer-collected data." 


The Observer Labor and Professionalism APO Focus Area will continue - with its projects, actions, and outputs - to work towards ensuring the professional and equitable employment of observers. We feel that support for Observer professionalism can correspond to many different aspects of observer employment, including but not limited to: trainings, skill maintenance, accessibility of resources and gear, fairness of the standards and the delivery of employment, emergency action planning, enforcement strength and reliability, avenues for feedback/evaluation delivery and reception, professional advancement opportunities, and any policy directives or actions which may affect the professional livelihood of an observer. The following list (not to be taken as a complete list) of "Observer Rights" are important to the workings of the Observer Labor and Professionalism APO Focus Area:

  • Observers are professionally supported from social (i.e. gender, race, ethnicity, class) discrimination/inequity during all stages of employment

  • Observers are professionally supported to be placed (at the location of their work -- i.e. on a vessel) in an unbiased manner

  • Observers are professionally supported to not be financially dependent upon the vessel(s) or fishing industry they are tasked to monitor

  • Observers are professionally supported from all conflicts of interest which may have an effect on how they perform their job

  • Observer are professionally supported to receive fair wages and benefits (i.e. insurance), comparable to like professions (with like workloads, risks, and responsibilities) from within particular geographic regions of work.

  • Observers are professionally supported during work contract negotiations

  • Observers, qualified and in good standing, are professionally supported to be retained in the profession as their experience increases

  • Observers are professionally supported to advance among their field


Current Projects:

For details and resources specific to each of the current ongoing projects of the Observer Labor and Professionalism APO Focus Area, please navigate to each project page found at the following links:

Past Project Actions and Outputs:

This page is currently under construction. Soon you will be able to link here to find a chronologically ordered list (with associated resource links for some) of past completed APO project actions and outputs, now categorized under the Observer Labor and Professionalism APO Focus Area heading. 

Membership and Contact Information

Please do not hesitate to contact us with your questions or feedback, and if you have any interest in participating in the developments of this APO Focus Area.

Focus Area Board Member Representatives: Listed here are members of the APO Board who are the current primary contacts for activities conducted by the Observer Labor and Professionalism APO Focus Area:

Focus Area Volunteers: Listed here are long-term volunteers of projects currently being conducted by the Labor and Professionalism APO Focus Area, listed with the project(s) they are helping with:

  • Keith Davis; Observer Professionalism Working Group (OPWG)


The Observer Labor and Professionalism APO Focus Area has a potential future project:

  • Observer Service Delivery Comparison Study: conduct an investigation into the various service delivery models and employment agreements that are currently available to observers with the intent of objectively bringing to light pros and cons (for observers, for programs, and for the end use of observer data) for each of the investigated models.

If there is a particular project that you would like to see addressed, we wholeheartedly welcome your suggestions. We need your help with the Observer Labor and Professionalism APO Focus Area. The time and level of commitment you can provide is up to you. Become involved with the Labor and Professionalism APO Focus Area today!!! 

General Resources and Links

This section is currently under construction and should be available soon.

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Our goal is to provide a comprehensive source of information for observers, and the public, on issues related to fishery observer programs.

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