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Fisheries Monitoring Operations in the Northeast

The Fisheries Monitoring Operations Branch manages fishery observers and electronic monitoring in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic fisheries.

Observer in orange rain gear, with supplies walking on dock.

Northeast Fisheries Monitoring Programs


If you want to become an observer, contact one of our approved providers.



Northeast Fisheries Observer Program

Our observers collect catch, gear, fishing effort, and biological data over a range of commercial fisheries. These data are widely used throughout the region for a variety of scientific and management analyses. It’s especially key for estimating the annual bycatch of all federally managed species in the region, including protected species. Each year the Northeast Fisheries Science Center uses this information to report on the estimated discards for the previous year. The results are then used to determine the observer sea-day schedule for the coming year. The process is governed by regulatory requirements commonly referred to as the Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodology

All federally permitted vessels are required to carry an observer when selected. Vessels operating in state water fisheries may be required to carry an observer if they have a high likelihood of interacting with marine mammals.

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At-Sea Monitoring Program

At-sea monitoring is an integral part of quota monitoring for groundfish sectors vessels. All groundfish catch by these vessels—landed or discarded—counts toward the quota. Catch data collected on commercial groundfish vessels by at-sea monitors is a primary source information used to monitor quotas throughout the year. It is also critical for estimating total discards by sector, gear type, and stock area. This information is critical for a host of applications from assessment to evaluating fishery management measures and ensuring regulatory compliance. The region’s at-sea monitoring requirements are detailed under Amendment 16 of the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan

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Industry-Funded Scallop Program

Industry-funded scallop observers monitor catch from dredge and trawl gear aboard commercial sea scallop vessels as specified by the Atlantic Sea Scallop Fishery Management Plan. Data collected by these observers are used to identify key characteristics of the commercial Atlantic sea scallop fishery in the region. The observer data inform stock assessments, monitor commercial gear selectivity, aid in spatial management, and help support a sustainable sea scallop fishery.

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Other Industry-Funded Monitoring Programs

Industry-funded monitoring programs are also used as part of fishery management plans for Atlantic salmon, deep-sea red crab, Northeast groundfish, and Northeast skates.

These programs are different from the annual large-scale effort in the region to characterize catch—both kept and discarded—across fleets and fisheries. Industry-funded monitoring is focused on specific fisheries. It is intended to assess the amount and type of catch, and to reduce uncertainty around catch estimates. While future programs may be developed, the Atlantic herring program was the first to be implemented.

Industry-Funded Herring Monitoring Program

The New England Fishery Management Council established a 50 percent monitoring coverage target for at-sea monitoring aboard vessels with Category A or B herring permits using midwater trawl, bottom trawl, or purse seine gear on declared herring trips. The purpose of this monitoring is to more accurately estimate catch, and to track catch against haddock and river herring/shad catch caps.

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Electronic Monitoring

Electronic monitoring uses video technology to record bycatch and verify catch. Electronic monitoring data supplements observer data.

New England groundfish sector fishermen may choose electronic monitoring over human at-sea monitors if it is part of their sector’s approved operations plan. This fact sheet (PDF,2 pg) describes the two types of electronic monitoring under development in the region.

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Beth Nelson holds a pufferfish while at sea
Beth Nelson holds a pufferfish.

Observer Blogs

Our observers share insights and experience:


Contact Us

Branch Chief:  Katherine McArdle

Fisheries Monitoring and Operations Contacts

Northeast Fishery Monitoring and Research Division Staff Directory

Fisheries Monitoring Operations Branch
Observer Training Center at Tech Park
25 Bernard East Saint Jean Drive
East Falmouth, MA 02536

Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on February 07, 2024