Observers 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. In response to widely available vaccines, increased transportation availability, and the removal of health and travel mandates in most communities, NOAA Fisheries has identified that most ports in Alaska have current travel and lodging conditions that allow observers to meet and maintain applicable health and travel advisories for deployment into the commercial fisheries.
NOAA fisheries will be expanding the deployment of observers to all ports throughout Alaska on September 1, 2021 to meet monitoring objectives for vessels in the Partial Coverage Category of the North Pacific groundfish and Pacific halibut fisheries. This change is consistent with the June 29, 2021 updated NOAA Fisheries observer waiver policy which states that vessels are no longer eligible for release from observer coverage under the Emergency Rule if a fully vaccinated or quarantined/shelter-in-place observer is available.
To the extent possible, NOAA Fisheries will deploy observers to achieve coverage levels identified in the 2021 Annual Deployment Plan for the remainder of the year, which are designed to meet the monitoring objectives established by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries.
Consistent with existing regulatory authority at 50 CFR 679.51(a)(1), NOAA fisheries may release trips from observer coverage on a case-by-case basis for vessels in the Partial Coverage Category. NOAA will use this authority when no observers are available for deployment. We will continue to work with the contracted observer service provider, AIS, Inc., to implement adjustments to the logistics of deploying observers, ensuring that qualified observers are available as soon as safely possible.
NOAA Fisheries may modify the list of ports with available observers in the future in response to transportation availability and/or changes in health and travel advisories. Any revisions to the deployment of observers due to changes in health and travel advisories will be published through an Alaska Region Information Bulletin.
NOAA Fisheries is committed to protecting the public’s health and ensuring the safety of fishermen, observers, and the communities in which they work, while fulfilling our mission to maintain our nation's seafood supply and conserving marine life. We will continue to monitor all local public health notifications, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for updates.