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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 marine species (animals federally protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)) 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 (i.e., from Maine to Texas), we review Protected Species Observers qualifications for specific nearshore projects to make sure they have the training and/or experience to perform the necessary duties, e.g., detection of protected species, observation and recording of protected species behavior and to document and report on protected species interactions. Nearshore projects that may require observers in these areas include dredging and spoil disposal, underwater construction and demolition, pile driving, and explosive blasting.

A nearshore Protected Species Observer is different from a Fishery Observer or a Platform Removal Observer. The training, duties, and approval process is different for each, and not immediately transferable. Additionally, individuals wishing to work offshore as a geophysical survey PSO should apply through the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources at nmfs.psoreview@noaa.gov

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 perform their required duties safely. The following sections contain more information about the education, experience, and training that NOAA Fisheries recommends for fulfilling nearshore Protected Species Observer duties.

Recommended Experience and Training for Protected Species Observer Approvals

Protected Species Observers for nearshore construction projects (such as pile driving, explosive demolitions, mechanical dredging, and dredged material disposal) should have education and/or experience that indicates that they are prepared to identify and appropriately manage protected species issues related to the project. NOAA Fisheries recommends that observers demonstrate either a college education in marine biology or a related field, or relevant work experience that includes protected species identification and observation. In nearly all cases, a training certificate from a vetted trainer is required for approval. 

Additionally, we recommend that observers prepare for their project-specific roles by receiving additional training or seeking similar experience in that role. 

Hopper Dredge PSO

PSOs that meet our approval for nearshore projects also receive “conditional” approval for hopper dredge projects. This means they are approved to serve on a hopper dredge, but only under close supervision of an unconditionally approved hopper dredge PSO. They are also qualified for on-the-job training under an “unconditionally” approved hopper dredge PSO. To qualify as an unconditionally approved hopper dredge PSO, an observer must have completed all of the basic education, experience, and training referenced above as well as:

  • 12 hours of training onboard a hopper dredge under the direct supervision of an unconditionally approved hopper dredge PSO
  • 48 additional hours on independent watches, while an unconditionally approved hopper dredge PSO is onboard the dredge

Trawl PSO

To qualify as a Trawl PSO, an individual should have the basic training and experience recommended for nearshore construction projects and be prepared to handle, collect information, tag, sample, and resuscitate marine species. We recommend that PSOs seeking Trawl approval have completed specialized training, participated in directed research, acted as a NOAA Fisheries-trained Fisheries Observer, or served in a marine animal hospital/rehab facility where duties included handling live animals. In some cases, PSOs may receive hands-on training aboard a trawler that includes live animal interactions under the direct supervision of an experienced NOAA Fisheries- approved Trawl PSO to receive experience for approval.

We also recommend that Trawl PSOs attend a classroom refresher on the topics covered above as well as a review of Appendix H of the South Atlantic Regional Biological Opinion for Dredging and Material Placement Activities in the Southeast United States (2020 SARBO). If there is a five-year lapse in employment as a Trawl PSO, we recommend the individual revisit the training recommendations and resubmit their application for NOAA Fisheries approval.

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

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 for specific activities, such as, mechanical or hopper dredging, construction or blasting, pile driving, or trawling. 

Our approval process is based on an individual’s documented training and experience. In some cases, specific work experience is an acceptable proxy for formal education. Upon completion of the requirements for a given role, the PSO should submit their résumé, training certificates, and work history (i.e., dates of employment, vessel name and type, supervisor’s name, and specific duties relating to protected marine species) to:

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

We will then provide the PSO confirmation stating that they are approved for a specific role.

Trainers and Providers

NOAA Fisheries does not conduct PSO training. However several companies provide or train PSOs for industry, agencies, and academia. NOAA Fisheries does not endorse any specific companies or their training programs. However, NOAA Fisheries reviews curriculum and training materials as provided to ensure information is sufficient for preparing PSOs for NOAA Fisheries approval. Please contact companies directly for more information on their programs. For privacy reasons, NOAA Fisheries does not supply the names of approved observers to other companies or to industry.



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This report provides recommendations for the Protected Species Observer and Data Management Program (PSO program) for marine geological and…

Last updated by Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office on February 03, 2023

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