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New How-To Guide for Observer Trip Selection in Alaska

November 22, 2021

The new manual describes the web-based system where fishermen, managers, and observer providers interact to determine fisheries monitoring coverage.

Fisheries observer taking fish measurements on the deck of a vessel A fisheries observer collects data aboard a partial-coverage fishing vessel in Alaska. Credit:NOAA Fisheries

NOAA Fisheries has produced the first comprehensive manual describing the  Observer Declare and Deploy System—the ODDS. This web-based system determines which fishing trips require observer or electronic monitoring (EM) coverage in the federal groundfish and Pacific halibut fisheries off Alaska. 

The ODDS is one of only two systems in the United States where fishermen, managers, and observer providers can all interact with information on past and upcoming fishing trips. 

The ODDS was built and is maintained by the Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis division of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. 

Since its launch in 2012, ODDS has successfully logged more than 50,000 fishing trips. 

The ODDS was originally designed to provide the means for randomized and representative deployment of observers and EM systems into the partial coverage fleet. It has since evolved into a platform that does much more, such as:

  • Track EM participation
  • Communicate with fishermen about their EM systems
  • Plan observer and EM deployment logistics
  • Waive monitoring for fishing trips 
  • Conduct vessel inspections for future planning

“Evolution is an essential part of a software’s lifecycle; otherwise you become obsolete,” said Paul Packer, NOAA Fisheries Information Technology specialist who was the lead programmer for the ODDS.  

However, this continual evolution has made it difficult to document how the ODDS works to share with others.  

"Although this documentation took time to develop, it has been worth the effort, because it explains in one place how to use the ODDS system,” said lead author Craig Faunce, NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

“We've included a chapter for everyone—from high-level views for management, to what it looks like to a user, to how it is programmed for developers.” 

The information has already been shared with fishermen and managers in the North Pacific as well as the governments of Chile and New Zealand. Until now, this information had to be shared through meetings and visual presentations. This newly available written “how-to” guide should aid other institutions to develop similar systems to the ODDS with greater ease than ever before. It will also provide a baseline for measuring improvements to the ODDS in the years ahead.