Frequent Questions: North Pacific Observer Vessel/Plant Operator
Answers to frequently asked questions and general information about and for North Pacific observer vessel and plant operators.
The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is cited on this page, and we have provided citations for specific regulations for your reference. Observer Program regulations can be found under Title 50, Part 679. The regulations in the eCFR take precedence if a discrepancy occurs between them and the information on this page.
Which vessels and processors are in the North Pacific Observer Program?
All participants in the federally-managed commercial groundfish fisheries off Alaska are subject to Observer Program requirements, including vessels 40 feet length overall and larger, and vessels participating in the commercial halibut fishery. The Observer Program places all vessels and processors in the groundfish and halibut fisheries (except catcher vessels delivering unsorted codends to mothership vessels) into one of two observer coverage categories: 1) the full coverage category or 2) the partial coverage category.
Vessel/Plant Operator Observer and Electronic Monitoring Coverage
How will observer and Electronic Monitoring coverage be assigned?
No selection pool: This pool is composed of vessels that will have no probability of carrying an observer on any trips for the fishing season. The no selection pool contains two categories of vessels:
- Fixed gear vessels less than 40 ft length overall (LOA) and vessels fishing with jig gear.
- Vessels that are voluntarily participating in electronic monitoring innovation research.
Electronic monitoring trip selection pool: Fixed gear vessels that were approved by NOAA Fisheries and have an approved Vessel Monitoring Plan. Vessel owners or operators must request by November 1 to use EM or be removed from the EM selection pool in the following calendar year.
Observer trip selection pool: There are five sampling strata for deployment of observers in the trip-selection pool:
- Trawl catcher vessels
- Hook-and-line catcher vessels greater than or equal to 40 ft LOA
- Pot catcher vessels greater than or equal to 40 ft LOA
- Trawl vessels delivering to tenders
- Pot vessels delivering to tenders
What are the observer and Electronic Monitoring selection rates?
Observer and EM selection rates are set each December when the Annual Deployment Plan is released for the upcoming year.
How do I learn about Electronic Monitoring?
Working with an Observer
What are my responsibilities when an observer is on my boat?
When you have an observer on board your boat, you and your crew are responsible for:
- Not interfering with the observer's ability to collect data.
- Assisting the observer in conducting a vessel safety inspection prior to sailing.
- Providing access to all parts of the vessel where the observer needs to work.
- Providing a safe working area and space for the observer's equipment.
- Sharing data with the observer if he or she asks for it, including the vessel location and your fishing logbook.
- Notifying the observer when fishing gear is being retrieved.
- Providing accommodations and food equivalent to that provided to the captain and crew.
- Providing any reasonable assistance to the observer when required to complete duties.
What will an observer do on my boat?
Observers are biologists trained by the Observer Program to collect a broad range of information needed by fisheries managers, stock assessment scientists, and policymakers. The information observers collect includes:
- Fishing effort information, such as fishing locations and gear type;
- Catch composition, including the size, sex, length and weight of sampled catch;
- Biological samples such as tissue, age structures (scales and otoliths), and stomachs;
- Interactions with marine mammals and seabirds.
How do observers collect their data?
Observers are trained to work closely with the vessel crew to collect samples with minimal interference to the vessel's operations. When observers first board a vessel, they work with the vessel personnel to explain their needs, assess the fishing operations, and decide where they can best do their work in a safe manner. They need periodic access to the fishing logbooks and GPS locations, but the majority of their work is carried out on-deck, sampling the catch as it comes aboard. Observers take samples of the catch and need some space to weigh and measure those samples. They will work with you to collect their required data and to minimize disruptions to your fishing operations.
Observers record information based on their direct observations following a sampling protocol outlined by the Observer Program. They apply random sampling methods to each data collection component. Observers use mechanical scales provided by NOAA Fisheries to obtain weights of various components of their data.
How much deck space is needed for the observers to do their work?
Observers are trained to work efficiently with minimal disruptions to the crew’s regular activities. Observers need space to collect, weigh, and measure fish. Observers require sufficient space to hold their samples while they sort them by species, weigh them, and collect biological information. Observers often work in unoccupied areas.
The amount of deck space required varies depending on the gear type being deployed. For hook-and-line gear, the observer needs a place to observe the catch coming up on the line, and an area to safely weigh some of the fish being caught. For trawl gear, the observer collects samples from each haul and needs space to sort these samples by species, and weigh them. The space needed for weighing varies as samples range from several kilograms for average weights by species on hook-and-line vessels to a few hundred kilograms for composition samples on trawl vessels.
How much room does the observer need for storage of equipment and samples?
Observers require a place where their equipment can be safely secured while at-sea. Observers bring on board the equipment they need, which is intended to be stored and contained in baskets provided by NOAA Fisheries. These baskets are about the size of a laundry basket. The baskets nest inside one another to minimize the overall footprint of the equipment on deck. The area of a basket pack is approximately 0.25 square meters (2.69 square feet) when nested. In addition to deck space to store equipment, observers require a safe, dry place to keep their data along with gear and samples (such as otoliths and scales) that need to stay dry. The space required for this is minimal.
Will the observer have to cut some of my fish?
Yes. Observers do cut some fish from within their samples to determine the sex, or to take otoliths or other tissue samples. NOAA Fisheries and observers understand that some valuable fish are delivered whole, or have specific cuts made to them, and we do not want to reduce the value of a significant portion of the catch. This is particularly an issue with sablefish when these high value fish are delivered whole.
You are responsible for working with the observer to reasonably assist in cutting fish if it can be done without significantly reducing the value of the fish. Observers are trained to work closely with the vessel crew to complete this work.
What safety equipment am I required to carry when an observer is on board?
You are required to comply with all applicable U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) regulations and to have a valid USCG Commercial Fishing Vessel safety decal issued within the last two years. The requirements can be found online. NOAA Fisheries provides observers with their own Personal Locator Beacon, immersion suit with strobe, and life jacket.
How do I get a U.S. Coast Guard Dockside Exam and Safety Decal?
Vessels that carry observers are required to have a valid U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Decal issued within the last two years, which ensures the vessel is in compliance with USCG safety equipment requirements. To get a safety decal, you must complete a Commercial Fishing Vessel Dockside Safety Exam with the USCG.
You can schedule a Commercial Fishing Vessel Dockside Safety Exam online or by contacting the Seventeenth Coast Guard District Fishing Vessel Safety Coordinator at (907) 463-2810 or (907) 463-2823.
Schedule the exam at least three weeks in advance. Advanced planning is necessary to ensure that you can get your vessel examined and in compliance before you are selected for observer coverage. You can arrange a mutually convenient time to have your vessel examined for issuance of a safety decal. The Fishing Vessel Safety Coordinator will discuss the scope of the examination with you in detail.
Do I have to have insurance when there is an observer on my boat?
Observers are insured by their employer, as required in regulation for full coverage vessels and in the contract between NOAA Fisheries and the observer provider for vessels in the partial coverage category. Observers are also covered by the Federal Employees Compensation Act. This insurance coverage does not prevent an observer or observer provider from filing a suit for injuries that occur on a vessel. Thus, industry members may choose to protect themselves from lawsuits by obtaining additional liability insurance.
How do I provide feedback about an observer on my boat?
Provide feedback concerning an observer to the Observer Program through the North Pacific Observer Program Vessel or Plant Operator Comment Form. You may also contact the Observer Program Director, Jennifer Ferdinand.
How do I provide feedback about the observer provider?
To provide comments or feedback about the observer provider, contact the Observer Program Director, Jennifer Ferdinand.
If I’m in the observer trip selection pool, what do I need to do?
As a participant in the observer trip selection pool, you are required to:
- Use the Observer Declare and Deploy System to log each fishing trip for your vessel at least 72 hours in advance of a trip’s departure date.
- Comply with observer requirements when a logged trip is selected for observer coverage.
What is ODDS?
The Observer Declare and Deploy System (ODDS) is an Internet-based interface that is used as a communication platform between fishing vessels in the partial coverage category, Observer Program and the observer provider. This system is used to select fishing trips for observer coverage and facilitates communication among the owner or operator of a vessel in the partial coverage category, Observer Program, and the observer provider. Logging trips into the system is also possible by calling the call center (AIS, Inc.) at (855) 747-6377.
ODDS is used to select trips for fixed gear electronic monitoring.
I have a new boat that I'll be using to fish in a federal commercial groundfish or halibut IFQ fishery. How do I get an ODDS account to log fishing trips?
If you are required to log trips in ODDS, the Observer Program will create an account for you using the contact information that you provided when you applied for a federal fisheries permit. Your ODDS account information will be sent to you either by email or by mail. If you have received your federal fisheries permit or IFQ permit and have not yet received your ODDS account information, you can contact the Observer Program by email or by phone at (206) 526-4240.
What is the definition of a fishing trip?
A fishing trip with respect to Observer Program requirement is defined in regulation at 50 CFR §679.2. There are different meanings for a trip depending on the type of vessel, where the vessel will be delivering their catch, and which selection pool a vessel is in for the year.
Observer Trip Selection Pool
- For a catcher vessel delivering to a shoreside processor or stationary floating processor, the fishing trip is the period of time that begins when a catcher vessel departs a port to harvest fish and ends when all harvested fish have been offloaded or transferred.
- For a catcher vessel delivering to a tender vessel, the fishing trip begins when a catcher vessel departs from a port to harvest fish. This type of trip must include at least one delivery to a tender vessel. If there was an observer on board, the observed tender trip does not end until all fish have been offloaded and the vessel is in port in which a shoreside processor or stationary floating processor with a valid Federal Processor Permit (FPP) is located.
- If the tender trip did not have an observer onboard, the un-observed fishing trip ends when the vessel returns to a port in which a shoreside processor or stationary floating processor with a valid FPP is located. A future fishing trip selected for observer coverage may not begin until all previously harvested fish has been offloaded.
- For a catcher/processor in the partial coverage category, the fishing trip is the period of time that begins when the vessel departs a port to harvest fish until the vessel returns to port and offloads all processed product.
EM Trip Selection Pool
For a vessel in the electronic monitoring trip selection pool of the partial coverage category, the fishing trip is the period of time that begins when the vessel leaves a shore-based port or tender vessel with an empty hold until the vessel returns to a shore-based port or tender vessel and all fish are delivered.
View information about electronic monitoring on small fixed gear vessels.
How do I log a fishing trip in ODDS?
There are two ways that you can log trips into ODDS:
- Log onto the ODDS website and use your ODDS User ID and password provided, or
- Call the call center (AIS, Inc.) at (855) 747-6377 between 6:00 AM and 10:00 PM, 7 days a week. You will need to give your ODDS User ID and phone number to the AIS, Inc. staff so they can log your trip into ODDS.
For information on how to use ODDS, including specific questions related to making changes to trips logged in ODDS, please see the ODDS FAQs.
If my trip is selected for observer coverage, what do I need to do?
If you are selected for observer coverage, ODDS will provide instructions about how to contact and coordinate with the observer provider. You will be instructed to contact AIS, Inc. at (855) 247-6746 or by email.
Why did I just get selected for observer coverage for a number of trips in a row?
It is the nature of random selection. The chance that a trip will be selected has nothing to do with whether your previous trip was selected. For example, if you flip a coin several times, you could get heads several times in a row; the results of each flip is independent of the previous flip. Similarly, each time you log a trip in ODDS, there is a chance that it will be selected for observer coverage. You could also be selected for observer coverage two trips in a row if you cancel a selected trip. The next trip you enter into ODDS after canceling a selected trip will automatically be selected for observer coverage.
If you fish with pot or hook-and-line gear and your vessel is between 40 and 57.5 LOA, and you have been selected for observer coverage for two trips in a row, the third logged trip will not be selected for observer coverage unless you cancel one of the previously selected trips.
Why is my vessel getting selected for more (or fewer) trips than my friend's vessel?
Every trip logged into ODDS for a vessel in the observer trip selection pool has a chance of being selected for observer coverage. The chance of selection for an individual vessel depends on the selection rate set for each group of vessels as defined in the Annual Deployment Plan and programmed into ODDS.
If two vessels are in the same group and have the same chance of being selected for observer coverage, this does not mean that both vessels will have the same number of selected trips. Consider the coin toss example in Q24 above, if you and your friend each flip a coin 10 times, you may flip six heads and your friend may only flip three heads due to random variation. The actual selection rate for an individual vessel may be different than the selection rate set in ODDS at the beginning of the year; however, over time with many trips logged, the actual selection rate for all trips across all vessels is much closer to the selection rate programmed in ODDS.
What happens if I called 72 hours in advance and asked for an observer but the provider is unable to get one to me?
If the observer provider is unable to deploy an observer for a selected trip, for whatever reason, the observer provider will coordinate with the Observer Program to release the trip from the observer coverage requirement. Observer Program staff are available to take calls from the observer provider after hours and make these decisions in a timely manner to avoid delaying trips.
What if bad weather delays my trip? What happens to the observer who is ready to go on the trip?
Notify the observer provider of the delay. The observer provider is required to make an observer available to a vessel for up to 48 hours past the departure date and time entered in ODDS. If you can leave within 48 hours, then the observer will be available for your trip. The observer provider is responsible for all travel, lodging, and associated expenses during this period.
If you delay the selected trip more than 48 hours, the observer provider can cancel the trip in ODDS and may assign the observer to another vessel. You are required to log your next trip into ODDS and an observer will be required on your vessel's next trip.
Can I request to take an observer on a specific trip?
No. You cannot request observer coverage for a specific trip. ODDS selects fishing trips for observer coverage based on a programmed sample design according to the Annual Deployment Plan. Allowing vessel operators to request observers for specific trips would increase the bias in the observer data. See question30 for information about fishing IFQ in multiple areas.
What do I do if I logged a trip intending to deliver to a tender vessel but instead I deliver shoreside (or vice versa)?
If you have not embarked on the trip yet, cancel the trip and log a new trip with the correct information. If you have already left on a trip, notify the Observer Program that the trip will not be completed as intended by calling the ODDS call center at (855) 747-6377 or emailing.
NOAA Fisheries understands that you may not know with 100 percent certainty in advance of departing port whether you will be delivering to a tender or not. Since the selection rate applied to each trip is dependent on the information entered in ODDS, it is extremely important that this information be entered accurately when logging a trip in ODDS.
Regulations prohibit submitting inaccurate information to NOAA Fisheries.
Individual Fishing Quota
Can I fish IFQ halibut in both Regulatory Area 4A and Regulatory Area 4C on the same trip? Do I need an observer for that trip?
You can fish in both areas on one trip without an observer, as long as you do not retain more halibut than the IFQ you have available in the area that you are fishing.
For example, if you have 5,000 lb of IFQ available in 4A, and 3,000 lb of IFQ available in 4C, you could begin fishing in 4C, and retain up to 3,000 lb of halibut in 4C and then move over to area 4A. You could only fish 2,000 lb of your IFQ available in 4A because anything more would put you over your 5,000 lb available. If you opted to fish area 4A first and got more than 3,000 lb in 4A, you could not move to 4C.
If you want to harvest all 8,000 lb from both areas combined on one trip you must have an observer or EM system onboard. You would only be able to harvest all of your IFQ in both areas if that trip was selected for observer coverage. This is because Federal IFQ regulations at 50 CFR 679.7(f)(4) prohibit you from retaining IFQ halibut in excess of your unharvested IFQ for each regulatory area, unless you have an observer or EM system onboard your vessel.
Vessels selected to participate in the fixed gear electronic monitoring pool may use EM to fish in multiple IFQ areas.
If I have halibut IFQ and fish with troll or dinglebar gear and catch halibut, do I need an observer on my trips?
No. Vessels incidentally harvesting halibut IFQ with Troll or dinglebar gear are in the no selection pool. Therefore, you are not required to log trips or carry an observer if you are using only troll or dinglebar gear and catch halibut IFQ.
If I am on a troll fishing trip and then decide to set longline gear? Do I need an observer on this mixed gear trip?
Catcher vessels harvesting halibut IFQ with longline gear are in the partial coverage category. If your vessel is less than 40 ft LOA you are in the “no selection” pool and you are not required to log your fishing trips or carry an observer. However, if your vessel is greater than or equal to 40 ft LOA you are required to log your fishing trips in ODDS and carry an observer if you are selected to do so. If you have been selected for observer coverage, and you plan to set longline gear as part of a fishing trip, you will need to take an observer on that trip.
Fishing in Alaska State Waters
I do NOT hold a Federal Fisheries Permit (FFP) and I only fish for groundfish in state waters. Am I subject to federal observer coverage requirements?
No. You are not required to log your fishing trips in ODDS or carry an observer when you fish for non-IFQ groundfish exclusively in State waters. However, if the vessel is carrying any halibut or sablefish IFQ holders onboard who have remaining IFQ available to harvest, you must retain any IFQ catch and the Federal observer regulations apply.
I hold an FFP. Am I subject to federal observer coverage requirements when I fish for groundfish in state waters?
If you are an FFP holder fishing in a State of Alaska managed fishery in State waters, also called a guideline harvest level fishery, you do not need to log your trips into ODDS and you are NOT required to carry an observer. Examples of State managed fisheries include, but are not limited to, pollock in Prince William Sound, sablefish in Chatham Strait, and sablefish and octopus in Cook Inlet. Contact Alaska Department of Fish and Game to determine if your fishery is a state-managed fishery.
Please note however that any time you retain halibut IFQ, halibut CDQ, or sablefish IFQ, even if you are participating in a State managed fishery, then the Observer Program rules apply. In other words, if you are retaining any amount of an IFQ species or halibut CDQ then you are required to log trips into ODDS and carry an observer if you are selected (both small and large vessel trip selection). The only exception is for IFQ species incidentally caught when fishing with jig and troll gear, which does not require observer coverage.
If you hold an FFP and are fishing in a "parallel fishery," you are required to log your fishing trips and carry an observer if your trip is selected for observer coverage. A parallel fishery is a fishery that occurs in State waters, is open at the same time as Federal groundfish fisheries in federal waters, and the groundfish catch is deducted from the Federal total allowable catch. For example, the Pacific cod pot fishery in the Central Gulf of Alaska is a parallel fishery.
This table summarizes the different scenarios for fishing inside state waters:
|Fishing State Waters (Inside 3 miles)|
|I hold an FFP: Am I required to log trips and carry an observer?||I do not hold an FFP: Am I required to log trips and carry an observer?|
|State managed fishery||No||No|
|Retaining IFQ or CDQ halibut or IFQ sablefish||Yes||Yes|
|Federal parallel waters fishery||Yes||No|
For demersal shelf rockfish and Pacific cod in state waters in Southeast Alaska, the answer depends on the area where you fish. The following FAQs provide more information for these fisheries.
Am I subject to federal groundfish observer requirements when I fish for demersal shelf rockfish (DSR)?
The answer depends on the area where you fish:
- Gulf of Alaska: DSR is part of the other rockfish species group and is a federally managed fishery. If you hold an FFP, you are required to log your tips into ODDS and carry an observer on selected trips.
- Southeast Alaska: The DSR fishery in both state and federal waters in Southeast Alaska is a state-managed fishery. You do not need to log your trips into ODDS and you are NOT required to carry an observer.
- Prince William Sound: The DSR fishery, like all rockfish in Prince William Sound, is state managed. You do not need to log your trips into ODDS and you are NOT required to carry an observer.
Am I subject to federal groundfish observer requirements when I fish for Pacific cod in state waters in southeast Alaska?
The answer depends on the area where you fish:
- The fishery in both state and federal waters in the Southeast Outside areas (NSEO, CSEO & SSEO) is a federally managed fishery. If you hold an FFP, you are required to log your trips into ODDS and carry an observer on selected trips.
- Northern Southeast Inside and Southern Southeast Inside are state managed. You do not need to log your trips into ODDS and you are NOT required to carry an observer.
Can I surrender my Federal Fisheries Permit (FFP)?
Yes. You can surrender your FFP with some limitations. View more information on FFPs.
Note that NOAA Fisheries has used landings made under an FFP for determining catch history for catch share programs. Surrendering an FFP to avoid observer coverage may impact future eligibility for a potential catch share program.
How is observer coverage paid for in the partial coverage category?
Observer and Electronic monitoring deployment in the partial coverage category is funded through a system of fees based on the ex-vessel value of groundfish and halibut landed. NOAA Fisheries assesses a fee of 1.25 percent on the ex-vessel value of the landed groundfish and halibut in the partial coverage category. Fee proceeds are used to contract with an observer provider company (AIS Inc.) to deploy observers to vessels and processing plants that have been selected for observer coverage. In October 2019, the Council recommended increasing the observer fee to 1.65 percent and NOAA Fisheries published a proposed rule on March 9, 2020 (85 FR 13618).
Vessels and processing plants in the full coverage category contract directly with permitted observer providers to obtain observer coverage on their vessel or at processing plants.
Which groundfish and halibut landings are subject to the observer fee?
The landings that are subject to the observer fee contain fish harvested in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and state waters where the catch is subtracted from the Federal total allowable catch. Most federally managed fisheries occur in the EEZ, and most fisheries managed by the State of Alaska occur in state waters within three nautical miles of the coast. However, some federally managed fisheries occur in state waters and vice versa.
Who pays the observer fee?
Processors and registered buyers are billed in January for observer fees based on the landings in the previous calendar year. The fee is split evenly between the vessel owner/operator and processor or registered buyer. Ex-vessel value is based on standard ex-vessel prices from prior years. The observer fee is calculated using a standard price published in December before the start of the calendar year. Each year, the observer fees for the previous year are due to NOAA Fisheries by February 15.
Updating Personal Information in the NOAA Fisheries Database
How do I update the contact information NOAA Fisheries has for me, including my address and/or phone number?
You can update your phone number or address in our database by emailing NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region Restricted Access Management or via fax: (907) 586-7354.
How do I update the information NOAA Fisheries has regarding the length overall (LOA) of my vessel
If you have a Federal Fishing Permit, please send a written request with a current vessel survey showing your vessel's length overall to NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region Restricted Access Management using email or fax: (907) 586-7354.
If you do not have a Federal Fishing Permit, you will need a current vessel survey. Please contact the State of Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission at (907) 789-6150, option #2, to obtain the correct form.
- North Pacific Observer Duties
- North Pacific Observer Program Training & Briefing
- North Pacific Observer Program Training Schedule
- North Pacific Observer Program Permitted Providers
- North Pacific Observer Pre-Class Reading Material
- North Pacific Observer Sampling Manual
- What is a North Pacific Groundfish and Halibut Observer Brochure
- Spatial Data Collected by Groundfish Observers in Alaska
- Alaska Groundfish Fishery Observer Data Map
- North Pacific Observer Resources
- North Pacific Electronic Monitoring
- North Pacific Observer Program Annual Deployment Plans
- North Pacific Observer Program Annual Reports
- North Pacific Observer Vessel / Plant Operator FAQ
- North Pacific Observer Vessel / Plant Operator Comment Form
- Observer Deploy and Declare System (ODDS)
- Observer Fee Collection and Payment
- Observer Harassment Warning (PDF, 1 page)
- North Pacific Observer Program Federal Register - Rules and Notices
- North Pacific Observer Program FMP Amendments - Rules and Notices
- Regulatory Analyses
7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115
Telephone: (206) 526-4674
Fax: (206) 526-4066
To log trips over the phone contact the Call Center (AIS, Inc.):
Telephone: (855) 747-6377
Sustainable Fisheries Division
PO BOX 21668, Juneau, AK 99802
Telephone: (800) 304-4846 (option #3)
PO BOX 21668, Juneau, AK 99802
Telephone: (800) 304-4846 (option #2)
Fax: (907) 586-7354
PO BOX 21668, Juneau, AK 99802
Telephone: (855) 247-6746
Fax: (206) 403-1200