Fisheries Sampling in the Northeast

The Fisheries Sampling Branch manages fishery observers and their training and deployment for Northeast and Mid-Atlantic fisheries.


We manage the following fishery monitoring programs:

Each program has observers who collect fishery-dependent data at sea, during commercial fishing trips in the Northwest Atlantic. We train and certify biologists in these programs.


  • To collect exceptional, timely, and unbiased fishery-dependent data in the Northwest Atlantic. 
  • To promote the long-term sustainability of fishery ecosystems by working collaboratively with fishing communities, scientists, resource managers, stakeholders, and the public.


  • Train, certify, and retain high performing observers.
  • Safely deploy and support observers.
  • Modernize and enhance at-sea data collection and dissemination.
  • Strengthen stakeholder relationships.
  • Support science and fishing communities.
  • Provide outreach to fishing communities and the public regarding observer program purpose and goals, including information about coverage levels.

Values Statement

With integrity and transparency, we safely deploy highly trained fisheries observers. Through strong relationships with fishermen and end-users, we provide an adaptive workforce to support ecosystem-based fishery management with unbiased quality data.

Our Programs

Northeast Fisheries Observer Program 



Our observers collect catch, gear, fishing effort, and biological data over a range of commercial fisheries. These data are the basis for estimating the bycatch of all federally managed species in the region, including protected species. All federally permitted vessels are required to carry an observer when selected. In addition, vessels operating in state waters fisheries may have to carry an observer if they have a high likelihood of interacting with marine mammals. 

At-Sea Monitoring Program

At-sea monitoring (ASM) coverage is an integral part of groundfish quota monitoring. The information on catch composition collected on commercial groundfish vessels by at-sea monitors is primarily used to estimate total discards by sector, gear type, and stock area. These data  are also used to support science-based management and ensure regulatory compliance. The ASM requirements are detailed under Amendment 16 of the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan.

Industry-Funded Scallop Program

Industry-funded scallop (IFS) 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 IFS observers are used to identify key characteristics of the commercial Atlantic sea scallop fishery in the region. The IFS observer data inform stock assessments, monitor commercial gear selectivity, aid in spatial management, and help support a sustainable sea scallop fishery.

Electronic Monitoring

We oversee the implementation of electronic monitoring within the region. Electronic monitoring uses video technology to record bycatch and verify catch.  Electronic monitoring data supplements that collected by human observers.

Beginning May 1, 2021, fishermen may choose electronic monitoring over human at-sea monitors if it is part of their sector’s approved operations plan. This EM fact sheet (pdf,2pg) describes the two types of EM being developed in the region. 

Industry-Funded Monitoring Program

We plan to implement the Industry-Funded Monitoring (IFM) Program in spring 2020. The purpose of IFM in the herring fishery is to more accurately estimate catch and track catch against haddock and river herring/shad catch caps. We will provide observers for monitoring this industry-funded program.

Our Responsibilities 

Standardized Bycatch Reporting Methodology

Observers report targeted catch, interactions with protected species, and fish and invertebrate bycatch for fishing vessels in the region. These data inform the standardized bycatch reporting methodology (SBRM) used to assess the amount and type of bycatch occurring in the greater Atlantic Region. Each year the Northeast Fisheries Science Center posts reports on the of estimated discards for the previous year and of observer sea-day allocations for the coming year using the formulaic prioritization process within SBRM analysis.  These data help determine our observer sea-day schedule.

Observer Sea-Day Schedule

We deploy observers to monitor bycatch based on the sea-day schedule to meet the SBRM  amendment requirements detailed for New England and mid-Atlantic fisheries. 

Pre-Trip Notification System for Multispecies Groundfish Fisheries

We designed the Pre-Trip Notification System. This system provides a fast, simple, and effective way to ensure fair and adequate coverage of all vessels fishing for Northeast groundfish. 

Observer Coverage for Industry-Funded Scallop Trips 

Fishermen must notify the Fisheries Sampling Branch each trip by calling the Scallop Observer Program number (508) 495-2100.

Observer Coverage for Industry-Funded Herring Trips

Provide notice and contact information (e.g., contact name and phone number, vessel name, date, time, and port of departure) to the Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (774) 392-2735 at least 72 hours prior to beginning any trip.

How do we use observer data?

Contact Us

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

More Information

Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on October 01, 2020