NOAA strongly believes in the health, safety, and security of fisheries observers and at-sea monitors who work for the agency as its eyes and ears on the water in many ocean fisheries here and overseas. Observers are professionally-trained technicians who work alongside fishermen in stressful, strenuous, and many times dangerous conditions. To ensure observers have safe and healthy working environments, NOAA Fisheries voluntarily started and completed a two-year, comprehensive Observer Safety Program Review to examine existing factors facing observers and at-sea monitors.
That review included an independent audit of current policies and protocols and the final report is now complete. The review found national and regional observer safety programs in the United States to be robust, mature, and effective. The report also makes recommendations in seven areas: safety reporting; communications; practices and policies; training; regulations; equipment; and international observers.
The agency has developed an action plan based on the review as the first step to implementing many of the recommendations. Since the release of the Observer Safety Program Review, NOAA Fisheries and the National Observer Program have implemented a number of immediate actions to address the recommendations. Actions include:
- develop an implementation action plan with short and long term goals to incorporate many of the recommendations into the current national and regional observer safety programs;
- adding representation from the Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspections on the National Observer Program Advisory Team;
- publish a Request for Information in the Federal Register to revise regulatory requirements of observer provider insurance for work-related incidents;
- support regional observer program safety trainers with marine safety instructor training certification and refresher courses through funding of a multi-year service contract
- enhance cross-training safety programs between regional observer programs to share best practices; and
- implement a standardized approach for incident reporting and comprehensive after action reporting (AAR) for more serious incidents.
Moving forward, we will continue to work with observers, observer providers, international delegations and many other constituents and stakeholders during the coming year to finalize the implementation plan and continue to initiate actions in response to the report. More information on the Action Plan for implementing the Observer Safety Report Review recommendations can be found here.