• New federal fisheries observer program for Alaska fisheries to go into effect Jan. 1
Juneau: NOAA Fisheries will implement a new fisheries observer program for Alaska’s commercial groundfish and halibut fisheries beginning Jan. 1.
Observers are trained biologists who collect detailed biological and operational information while aboard vessels and at shoreside plants during commercial fisheries. The information is then used by fisheries managers, scientists, and policy makers in making decisions critical to sustainably managing Alaska’s billion dollar fisheries industry.
Since the inception of the industry-funded groundfish observer program in 1990, there have been several attempts to restructure Alaska’s program to improve data quality, to more equitably distribute industry’s costs, and to include halibut vessels.
NOAA sent out a press release stating the final rule filed in the Federal Register Tuesday applies to vessels and processors of all sizes, including the commercial halibut sector. It divides the existing observer program into two observer coverage categories—full coverage and partial coverage.
Vessels and processors in the full observer coverage category—required to have at least one observer at all times—will retain the current funding and observer deployment system, and will continue to contract directly with observer provider companies and pay the full cost of their own observer coverage.
Vessels and processors in the partial observer coverage category—not required to have an observer at all times—will have a new funding and deployment system and will pay a fee for their observer coverage based on the ex-vessel value of their groundfish and halibut. The fee for each landing will be split between vessel owners and processors with processors remitting the fee liability to NOAA Fisheries through an annual billing. NOAA Fisheries is providing start-up funding for the first year of the new program. The fees collected from industry will fund the program in subsequent years.
NOAA Fisheries worked closely with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, fishermen, processors, and other stakeholders to restructure the observer program. A robust public comment process was vital to helping shape the new program. Further information about the new observer program can be found on the Alaska Region’s website at http://www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/sustainablefisheries/observers/.
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