NOAA Fisheries regional observer programs (ROPs) were highlighted at the recent joint annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society and the Wildlife Society in Reno, Nevada. Two full-day symposia focusing on the contributions of fishery observers to sustainable fisheries were organized by National Observer Program staff from NOAA Fisheries headquarters, as well as by staff from the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement in Alaska.
The first session was dedicated to fishery-dependent observing and monitoring, with a focus on fishery observers and the critical scientific data they collect from commercial fishing vessels and processing facilities. Observer data is essential for sustainably managing fish stocks, protecting species such as marine mammals and seabirds, and supporting healthy marine ecosystems. This session featured presentations by fishery observers, ROP biologists, NOAA Fisheries science center and regional office researchers, and Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission scientists who collect and/or use observer data to accomplish research and management objectives. Specific topics covered included bycatch estimation and how to reduce bycatch, fishery observer retention, and the use of electronic technologies to improve data collection and efficiency.
On the final day of the conference, a second observer session demonstrated the importance of collaboration between industry members, observer providers, observer programs, law enforcement, and other stakeholders to ensure a safe and secure work environment for fishery observers. Presentations on the challenges observers face at sea as well as strategies used by observer liaisons and vessel captains to support fishery observer safety and sampling goals were included in this session. The symposium concluded with a panel discussion that provided opportunities for knowledge transfer among observer programs, fishery observers, and various other stakeholders with the common goal of improving the observer work environment.