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Protected Species Observer Information for New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Southeast

Information for protected species observers engaging in monitoring nearshore activities in the New England/Mid-Atlantic region and Southeast region.

Protected Species Observers (PSOs) are trained professionals who provide protected species (animals federally protected under the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act) monitoring and mitigation services to help a wide range of industries meet their regulatory compliance needs.

In the New England/Mid-Atlantic and Southeast areas, we review the qualifications of Protected Species Observers to make sure they have the expertise to support specific activities. Projects that may require observers in these areas include dredging and spoil disposal, underwater construction and demolition, pile driving, explosive blasting, and relocation trawling.

A Protected Species Observer is different than a Fishery Observer or a Platform Removal Observer. The training, duties, and approval process is different for each, and not immediately transferable.

Focused on the protected species compliance and mitigation measures for a given project, Protected Species Observers provide marine wildlife expertise and guidance to the project managers. Observers also document and report on protected species interactions during projects. While compliance and reporting requirements may differ by project, observers should have education and/or experience with protected species, as well as appropriate training to safely perform their required duties. The following sections contain more information about the education or experience, and training that NOAA Fisheries recommends for fulfilling all Protected Species Observer duties.

Basic Criteria to Become a Protected Species Observer

Protected Species Observers should have education and/or experience that indicates that they are prepared to identify and appropriately manage protected species issues related to the project. The necessary skills may differ from project to project; however, NOAA Fisheries recommends that observers demonstrate either a college education in biology or a related field, and/or relevant volunteer or work experience that includes protected species identification and observation.  

Additionally, we recommend that observers prepare for their project-specific roles by receiving training or seeking similar experience in that role. Training that will prepare an observer for his/her position should include:


  1. Identification of protected species relevant to the activity and location (includes all listed species that may be encountered in the project area).
  2. Cues and search methods for locating marine mammals, especially whales, and sea turtles.
  3. Overview of the MMPA and the ESA as they relate to the project or activity and location.
  4. Overview of the project or activity operations, including any relevant safety information or training necessary to fill the role.
  5. Overview of the project or activity-related effects on protected species and mitigation measures.
  6. Overview of PSO roles and responsibilities.
  7. Data collection and reporting requirements for a specific activity.

Other Experience, Training, and Certifications

In addition to the generalized education, experience, and training recommended by NOAA Fisheries, there may be activity-specific experience, training, or certifications that are required for a particular project. For example, Relocation Trawling may require animal handling, tagging and genetic sampling (i.e., tissue collection) experience. PSOs should consult industry standards, understand their role relevant to the activity type, and review activity-specific guidelines to ensure they are adequately prepared to fulfill their role.

Regional Approval Process for Specific New England/Mid-Atlantic and Southeast Projects

We have recently realigned the PSO approval process based on the project type and location. A nearshore PSOs will focus on construction, demolition, dredging, and/or relocation trawling activities while an offshore PSO will focus on high resolution geophysical surveys and/or deep penetration seismic surveys.

NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region will only review applications from those wishing to work nearshore as Protected Species Observers in the New England / Mid-Atlantic and Southeast Regions (i.e., from Maine to Texas) for specific activities, such as, dredge, construction or blasting, and/or relocation trawling. 

Applicants wishing to work offshore as PSOs on geophysical surveys should apply through the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources at 

Our approval process is based on an individual’s demonstrated training and experience. In some cases, specific work experience is an acceptable proxy for formal education. If you are interested in receiving approval as a PSO for nearshore activities, such as construction, demolitions, dredging and relocation trawling in the New England / Mid-Atlantic and Southeast Regions (i.e., from Maine to Texas), we recommend that you forward your:

  1.  Current resumé
  2. Pertinent training certificates
  3.  Work History (i.e., dates of employment, names of supervisors, specific duties related to marine mammals/sea turtles/fish, number of animals worked with, and number and type of vessels crewed, etc.)
  4. Cover letter to the address shown below:

Max Tritt 
Protected Resources 
NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office
55 Great Republic Drive
Gloucester, MA 01930

Conditional and Unconditional Ratings by Project Type 

Once approved, observers serving on hydraulic hopper dredges require on-the-job training/experience in addition to the basic education/experience and training requirements. For this role, individuals meeting the basic education/experience and training requirements may be granted “conditional” approval – meaning they meet all other requirements and have been approved for on-the-job training. Once the on-the-job training requirements have been met, observers will receive “unconditional” approval for that role.

For example, to gain unconditional approval for a position on a hopper dredge, candidates must have all the basic education/experience and training as well as:

  1. 12 hrs of training onboard a hopper dredge under the direct supervision of an unconditionally approved Protected Species Observer; and
  2.  the candidate may then stand independent watches, but an unconditionally approved Protected Species Observer must be onboard the dredge to provide assistance and confirmation of species identification during the next 48 watch hours.

Upon completion of these requirements, the candidate should submit completion confirmation to us (i.e., name of dredge, name of Supervisor, and date of completion). We will then provide the Protected Species Observer confirmation stating that they are unconditionally approved to monitor interactions with listed species aboard hopper dredges, to stand independent watches without supervision, and to train conditionally approved observers.

Trainers and Providers

NOAA Fisheries does not conduct formal training for Protected Species Observers. However, there are numerous protected species consultants who provide or train Protected Species Observers for different sectors of industry. NOAA Fisheries does not endorse any consultants or their training programs. However, NOAA Fisheries reviews curriculum and training materials periodically as a means of standardizing the course of instruction. Please contact consultants directly for more information on their programs. For privacy reasons, NOAA Fisheries does not supply the names of approved observers to consultants or to industry.



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