Fisheries observers are biologists who work independently to collect a wide range of information onboard commercial fishing vessels and at shoreside processing plants receiving fish from Alaskan waters. Observer information is used by NMFS and partner agencies to manage commercial fisheries in the North Pacific. Observers are deployed by permitted providers for up to three months at a time.
Training to become a certified observer consists of a comprehensive three week program held in Seattle. The curriculum includes safety while at sea, sampling methodologies, species identification, and data documentation requirements. It also provides information regarding fisheries management, pertinent fishing regulations, and life as an observer. Attendance, full participation in exercises, and a passing score on exams are necessary to successfully complete the classroom portion. In addition, trainees must be able to don an immersion suit in less than one minute and enter the water and climb into a floating life raft while wearing the suit.
Working as an observer is adventurous and rewarding. Observers have the opportunity to experience life at sea and the beautiful scenery of coastal Alaska. The work is physically and mentally demanding. Rough seas are common, bouts of seasickness can be uncomfortable, and the environment can be cold and wet. Limited onboard space makes living and working conditions relatively cramped. Most trips last from one day to a couple of weeks, although some vessels go to sea for several weeks. Many vessels fish 24 hours a day, resulting in erratic and unpredictable work periods and irregular sleeping schedules. Daily activities may include heavy lifting (up to 80 lbs), climbing ladders, and working on rolling, slippery decks. There may be minimal access to phones, computers and mail. In the event of an emergency, advanced medical assistance may not be readily available. Observers can take pride in the knowledge that their work is essential to effective fisheries management in the North Pacific.