Temporary Waivers on Northeast Observers, Monitors Through July 31, Resuming Coverage August 1

June 30, 2020

NOAA Fisheries has temporarily waived the requirement for vessels with Greater Atlantic Region fishing permits to carry a fishery observer or at-sea monitor through July 31. Observer coverage to resume August 1.

Northeast fishing boats. Credit: NOAA Fisheries.

June 30, 2020

Although we had announced plans to resume observer deployments on July 1, we recognize the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve and as such, has required us to re-evaluate and adapt to changing circumstances.  In response, NOAA Fisheries is extending the waiver granted to vessels with Greater Atlantic Region fishing permits to carry human observers or at-sea monitors through July 31, 2020.

This action is authorized by 50 CFR 648.11, which provides the Greater Atlantic Regional Administrator authority to waive observer requirements, and is also consistent with the criteria described in the agency's emergency rule on observer waivers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We intend to begin redeploying observers and at-sea monitors on vessels fishing in northeast fisheries on August 1.  During the month of July, we will continue to work with regional observer and at-sea monitoring service providers to finalize their observer redeployment plans, conduct outreach with industry, and finalize our internal programs and policies that will support the safe and effective redeployment of observers and at-sea monitors in the region. 

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.

As has been done throughout the rest of the country, it is the intent of NOAA Fisheries to begin redeploying observers as soon as it is safe and appropriate to do so.  While we intend to begin redeploying observers on August 1, we recognize that this public health crisis continues to evolve and changing conditions may warrant re-evaluating these plans.  Should our plans regarding re-deploying observers and at-sea monitors change, we will announce any changes as soon as practicable.

June 22, 2020 Update

Letter from NEFSC Science and Research Director on Northeast Observer Program Restart

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.

The Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Fisheries Sampling Branch has been preparing for the July 1 restart of fisheries monitoring Northeast Fisheries by working through internal protocols and processes to ensure shoreside components of the program can operate. They are also coordinating with observer providers to develop deployment plans that support the health and safety of observers, fishermen, and others in the fishing industry, in light of the COVID-19 virus.

Dr. Jon Hare, the NEFSC science and research director, has written a letter to update stakeholders and partners on progress to date.

Download the letter from the Science and Research Director (pdf, 2 pages).

Text of the letter:

Dear Partners and Stakeholders:

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.

On May 29, NOAA Fisheries announced that on July 1, the waiver of fishery monitoring will expire, and we will begin deploying observers and at-sea monitors on vessels fishing in northeast fisheries. In this letter, I am updating you on what we are doing to prepare for a safe and efficient redeployment.

The Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Fisheries Sampling Branch has been working through internal protocols and processes to ensure shoreside components of the program can operate. They are also coordinating with observer providers to develop deployment plans that support the health and safety of observers, fishermen, and others in the fishing industry, in light of the COVID-19 virus.

I want to share some additional information on progress we have made to date.

NOAA Fisheries

The Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Fisheries Sampling Branch is developing a comprehensive plan for resuming operations that supports fishery monitoring, with safety at its core. This plan has to do with workplace operations, communications, people, training, and deployment of observers and monitors. This is some of what is included:

  • Beginning July 1, we will follow the sea day schedule and coverage targets laid out for the2020 fishing year. Coverage targets are not expected to increase beyond those levels to makeup for unused days during the waiver period.
  • Vessels with Electronic Monitoring will temporarily not be assigned observers and monitors after the waiver lifts.
  • To limit the number of different vessels an observer covers, we will temporarily lift restrictions on the number of times an observer/at-sea monitor can cover the same vessels.
  • Observers and at-sea monitors will be deployed to vessels using the Pre-Trip Notification (PTNS), Scallop Vessel Call-in System (VCIC), and port intercepts (i.e., observers selecting trips for coverage in the ports).

Observer Providers
Each observer service provider has developed a deployment plan that includes safety protocols and requirements. We are closely coordinating our actions with these companies and are encouraging them to use common practices, which include:

  • Training observers on COVID-19 awareness and risk mitigation
  • Deploying individuals to the same vessel(s) and ports as much as possible
  • Minimizing observer travel among vessels, ports, and states
  • Pre-trip health screening for observers
  • 14-day self-isolation prior to first deployment
  • Personal protective equipment requirements
  • Temperature monitoring prior to and throughout deployment
  • Protocols for detecting, reporting, and acting on COVID-19 symptoms at home and at sea
  • Vessel COVID-19 assessment pre-screening questions

Fishing Businesses
Vessels, fishing organizations, sectors, and other fishing businesses each have their own plans. We encourage fishing businesses to reach out to the observer providers or the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Fisheries Sampling Branch staff with any questions about redeployment.

Next Steps
We will continue to monitor local and state public health notifications, as well as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for updates. Should our observer and at-sea monitor redeployment change, we will announce those changes as quickly and clearly as practicable. We are committed to the public health and safety of fishermen, observers, and others while fulfilling our mission to maintain our nation's seafood supply and conserving marine life.

We appreciate everyone’s help with resuming fishery monitoring.

May 29, 2020 Update

Observer Coverage in Greater Atlantic Region to Resume July 1

NOAA Fisheries is extending the waiver granted to vessels with Greater Atlantic Region fishing permits to carry human observers or at-sea monitors through June 30, 2020. This action is authorized by 50 CFR 648.11, which provides the Greater Atlantic Regional Administrator authority to waive observer requirements, and is also consistent with the criteria described in the agency's emergency rule on observer waivers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We intend to begin redeploying observers and at-sea monitors on vessels fishing in northeast fisheries on July 1.  During the month of June, we will continue to work with regional observer and at-sea monitoring service providers to finalize their observer redeployment plans, conduct outreach with industry, and finalize internal programs and policies that will support the safe and effective redeployment of observers and at-sea monitors in the region. 

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.

As has been done throughout the rest of the country, it is the intent of NOAA Fisheries to begin redeploying observers as soon as it is safe and appropriate to do so.  While we intend to begin redeploying observers on July 1, we recognize that this public health crisis continues to evolve and changing conditions may warrant re-evaluating these plans.  Should our plans regarding re-deploying observers and at-sea monitors change, we will announce any changes as soon as practicable.

May 15, 2020 

Northeast Observer Waiver Extended through May 30

NOAA Fisheries is extending the waiver granted to vessels with Greater Atlantic Region fishing permits to carry human observers or at-sea monitors for an additional two weeks, through May 30, 2020. This action is authorized by 50 CFR 648.11, which provides the Greater Atlantic Regional Administrator authority to waive observer requirements, and is also consistent with the criteria described in the agency's emergency rule on observer waivers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

May 1, 2020

Northeast Observer Waiver Extended through May 16

NOAA Fisheries is extending the waiver granted to vessels with Greater Atlantic Region fishing permits to carry human observers or at-sea monitors for an additional two weeks, through May 16, 2020. This action is authorized by 50 CFR 648.11, which provides the Greater Atlantic Regional Administrator authority to waive observer requirements, and is also consistent with the criteria described in the agency's emergency rule on observer waivers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 providers 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.

April 17, 2020 

Northeast Observer Waiver Extended through May 2

Consistent with the agency's emergency rule on observer waivers during the COVID-19 pandemic and under the authority granted to the Greater Atlantic Regional Administrator at 50 CFR Part 648.11(c), NOAA Fisheries is extending the waiver granted to vessels with Greater Atlantic Region fishing permits to carry human observers or at-sea monitors for an additional two weeks, through May 2, 2020
 
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 providers 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.
 

April 2, 2020 

Northeast Observer Waiver Extended through April 18

Consistent with the agency's emergency rule on observer waivers during the COVID-19 pandemic and under the authority granted to the Greater Atlantic Regional Administrator at 50 CFR 648.11(c), NOAA Fisheries is extending the waiver granted to vessels with Greater Atlantic Region fishing permits to carry human observers or at-sea monitors for an additional two weeks, through April 18, 2020. We will continue to evaluate the need for further extensions of this waiver on a weekly basis.

March 20, 2020

As part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, NOAA Fisheries is temporarily waiving the requirement for vessels with Northeast fishing permits to carry a fishery observer or at-sea monitor. The waiver will be in effect through April 4, and future extensions of this waiver will be evaluated weekly. For details, please read the letter from the Regional Administrator (pdf, 1 page).

Text of the letter below:

Dear Partners and Stakeholders:

As part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, NOAA Fisheries is temporarily waiving the requirement for vessels with Northeast fishing permits to carry a fishery observer or at-sea monitor. The waiver will be in effect through April 4, and future extensions of this waiver will be evaluated weekly.

This action is consistent with agency authority to grant waivers for observer and at-sea monitoring requirements under certain circumstances. The availability and deployment of observers is becoming increasingly challenging. The action is also consistent with current federal and state health guidance. The health and well-being of fishermen, observers, and supporting staff is not only a human health concern, but also essential to securing our nation’s seafood production.

Through April 4, 2020, NOAA Fisheries will issue waivers for declared and incoming Northeast fishing trips. During this period:

  • All reporting and pre-trip notification call-in requirements remain in place.
  • Waivers will be issued for all current and newly selected fishing trips. 
  • Port intercepts (i.e., observers selecting trips for coverage in the ports) will be temporarily suspended. 
  • Trips that are currently at sea with an observer onboard are unaffected.
  • Vessels using Electronic Monitoring are unaffected, as this waiver applies to human observers only.

The Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center will evaluate the impacts of waivers on our fisheries and observer programs throughout this period:

  • We will monitor fishing activity in comparison to when observers have been deployed, to track continued compliance with legal and regulatory requirements. 
  • We will evaluate weekly observer availability, ability to travel, and level of fishing effort and landings.
  • We will monitor for changes in current health and safety guidelines that we expect would increase observer availability. 
  • We will also monitor fishing effort and landings, which could be indicators that the temporary waiver of observer requirements could be ended.

Sincerely,

Michael Pentony