Consistent with the agency's emergency rule on observer waivers during the COVID-19 pandemic, NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region is authorizing an extension of the temporary waiver of observer requirements for an additional two weeks, through May 31, 2020, with the following limitations:
- The waiver applies only to vessels in the Partial Coverage Category of the North Pacific groundfish and Pacific Halibut fisheries operating from ports other than Kodiak, Alaska.
- It does not exempt vessels using electronic monitoring, or the requirement that vessels continue to log trips in the Observer Declare and Deploy System (ODDS).
This limited extension reflects the current conditions in the port of Kodiak, Alaska:
- Kodiak is served by Alaska Airlines and has not experienced a significant decline in air service.
- There is a cadre of observers in Kodiak who have been sheltering in place in Kodiak, and therefore present the same health risk level as other community members aboard a vessel.
- Because this cadre of observers has been out of work during past waivers, there is a risk that they will leave Alaska, negating the time spent sheltering in place in the port of Kodiak.
- If their departure were to occur, it could harm future observer availability for the upcoming Gulf of Alaska rockfish fishery, which requires full observer coverage.
NOAA Fisheries will continue to monitor and evaluate this situation. As we have done in other parts of the country, we will use this time to work with the observer service provider to implement adjustments to the logistics of deploying observers, ensuring qualified observers or at-sea monitors are available as soon as safely possible.
Observers and at-sea monitors are an essential component of commercial fishing operations and provide critical information that is necessary to keep fisheries open and to provide sustainable seafood to our nation during this time. We will continue to monitor all local public health notifications, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for updates. We are committed to protecting the public health and ensuring the safety of fishermen, observers, and others, while fulfilling our mission to maintain our nation's seafood supply and conserving marine life.