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North Pacific Observer Program Training & Briefing

Training to become a certified North Pacific observer consists of a comprehensive three week program held in Seattle.

People in orange suits looking through binoculars on a boat

Observer Training

Training to become a certified North Pacific 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 about fisheries management, pertinent fishing regulations, and life as an observer. The training is extensive and challenging as to mimic real-world work conditions to help prepare observers. Training times and locations post quarterly or when changes occur.

Attendance, full participation in exercises, and a passing score on exams are necessary to complete the classroom portion. On the first day of class, you will be tested on the pre-class reading material.  In addition, trainees must be able to lift at least 50 pounds and don an immersion suit in less than one minute and enter the water and climb into a floating life raft while wearing the suit.

The Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division (FMA) provides certified observers with sampling equipment and safety gear. Observers (or observer service providers) should provide sleeping bags, rain gear, boots, and gloves. Additional expenses to consider are room and board costs while in training, in transit, and awaiting deployment, and such costs as those associated with special clothing, supplies, and required medical examinations.

Members of the fishing community have periodically asked to attend observer training. We extend an open invitation for industry members to attend any part of our observer training classes as we want this to be an open process.

Briefings - Refresher Training for Experienced, Certified Observers

After completion of an observer cruise, observers must attend a briefing before each deployment thereafter. There are three different briefings that an observer can attend; previous performance and/or when the observer was last deployed determines exactly which one. The training and briefing requirements and expiration rules explain when each briefing is required. The training schedule has the dates and locations of the briefings.

Annual Briefing

Observer Services Program staff and guest lecturers cover topics which include:

  • Safety awareness
  • Enforcement issues
  • Random sampling techniques
  • Changes in sampling protocol
  • Regulations
  • Data forms
  • Bird, fish, crab, invertebrate, and marine mammal Identification

Observers can ask questions and review any recommendations from previous evaluations with staff members.


  • Every observer holding a current certification must attend one annual briefing before their first contract of the calendar year.
  • Any observer who has showed conceptual and/or performance issues will be assigned a training/briefing requirement that will best address their areas of deficiencies.

Fish and Crab ID Examination

Each certified observer must successfully complete a Fish and Crab ID Examination in a 12 month period. This includes passing a Fish and Crab ID Exam with a minimum score of 80%. Successful completion of this examination is required to maintain their annual general endorsement. This examination may also be required before future deployments if an observer shows a deficiency in species identification.

Tutorial Briefing

Observers who need the benefit of a one-on-one tutorial with training staff attend the tutorial briefing. The tutorial material caters to the observer(s) in attendance to ensure a comprehensive review of the material. The first day of the briefing focuses on remedying any areas of deficiency while the second is the standard 1-day briefing with other returning observers.

1-day Briefing

1-day briefings are for observers in good standing who have no or few problems with sampling methods or species identification. The material reviewed includes:

  • sampling priorities
  • avoiding common mistakes
  • changes in sampling protocols and/or regulations that occurred since the observer's annual briefing.

Observers can also ask vessel and/or fishery specific questions.

Training/Briefing Requirements and Expiration Rules

  1. a) All prior observers must complete an annual briefing before their first deployment in any calendar year.
    b) One-day briefings are required prior to subsequent deployments within a calendar
    c) Based on performance, prior observers may be required to complete a tutorial briefing, an annual briefing, or retake the three-week training course.

  2. If an observer remains un-deployed from one to three months (30 - 90 days) after
    completion of training, an annual briefing must be completed. If an observer remains
    un-deployed for more than 3 months (90 days) after completion of training, the observer
    must retake the full three-week training course.

  3. If an observer remains un-deployed from one to three months (30 - 90 days) after
    completion of an annual briefing, the observer must complete a one-day briefing. If
    more than three months (90 days) have passed since the completion of the annual
    briefing, the observer must retake the full annual briefing.

  4. If an observer remains un-deployed after one month (30 days) from the completion of a
    tutorial briefing, the observer must complete a one-day briefing.

  5. If an observer remains un-deployed after one month (30 days) from the completion of a
    one-day briefing, the observer must retake the full one-day briefing.

  6. Observers who have not been deployed for a period of 18 months (540 days) are
    required to complete a three-week training course.


The success of the FMA Division's observer program depends on the quality of data collected by observers. FMA requires observers to complete a debriefing process after each cruise to ensure methods are consistent with our training and the data collected are sound.

The debriefing process consists of the following elements:
  • Observers complete a vessel or processing plant report for each assignment. This report provides details on the observed fishery, the vessel or plant configuration, and the sampling procedures used by the observer.
  • A staff member conducts a debriefing interview. The debriefer and the observer discuss sampling decisions made by the observer, any problems and resolutions that occurred during the observer's deployment, and recommendations for future sampling.
  • The debriefer conducts a thorough data check. Observers check and re-check their data at sea to ensure quality data for in-season fishery management. However, small errors are expected, especially during long cruises. The debriefer and observer fix any identified errors prior to the data being loaded onto the FMA's final database
  • Finally, the observer completes a post-debriefing questionnaire. The questionnaire is anonymous and provides observers the opportunity to comment on, and suggest changes to, the FMA Division and the services we provide

At the end of each debriefing, observers receive an evaluation of their work and performance. This evaluation includes a list of assessed points covering details relevant to their deployment and comments addressing overall effort in completing duties, level of documentation of activities, and any issues of note they encountered during their debriefing. The evaluation will also include a recommendation for their next briefing requirement.

Additional Resources





North Pacific Observer Sampling Manual

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North Pacific Observer Program Vessel or Plant Operator Comment Form

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North Pacific Observer Program 2017 Annual Report

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