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NOAA Fisheries Identifies National-Level Observer Waiver Criteria; Will Begin Redeployment in Northeast

July 30, 2020

A message from NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Chris Oliver.

Fisheries observer taking notes on a boat deck.

Providing seafood to the country remains an essential function even in these extraordinary times, and adequately monitoring United States fisheries remains an essential part of that process.

To improve transparency in our approach to observer deployment, we have established national-level criteria for vessels to be waived (released) from observer or at-sea monitor coverage. Going forward, observer or monitor coverage may be waived, for both full and partial-coverage fisheries, on a trip-specific basis if one of the following two criteria are met:

(1) Observers or at-sea monitors are not available for deployment; or

(2) The observer providers cannot meet the safety protocols imposed by a state on commercial fishing crew or by the vessel or vessel company on its crew. Within our limited authority, our efforts are intended to ensure observers and monitors are following the same safety protocols that fishermen are following.

We recognize that there are differences for observer and at-sea monitor deployment across fisheries, and have heard the concerns expressed about how observer coverage varies regionally, and even within regions. Given the diversity in our fisheries, from the composition of the fleets to how the fisheries are prosecuted, regional flexibility will continue in the detailed implementation of the two waiver criteria. We believe this adaptable approach will allow us to be transparent with stakeholders as well as responsive to ever-evolving changes on the ground. We also continue to encourage the use of electronic monitoring, as appropriate, as an additional option.

On August 14, we will resume deployment of observers and at-sea monitors in the Northeast partial-coverage fisheries. We are maintaining existing observer and monitor, both at-sea and shoreside, coverage throughout our other regions. Vessels should continue to seek observer and monitor coverage waivers through their regular regional process.


NOAA Fisheries has been working with the regional observer and monitor providers to enact safety protocols that match those that are in effect for vessel operators and crew, during this continually evolving situation. The contractual relationships between industry, NOAA Fisheries, and observer providers vary by region and sometimes within a region.

Observers and monitors, at-sea and shoreside, 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, for updates. We are committed to the health and safety of fishermen, observers, and others while fulfilling our mission to maintain our nation's seafood supply and conserving marine life.

Chris Oliver
NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator

Last updated by Office of Communications on August 24, 2021

Observer Program