Species Verification Program
Accurate species identification is essential to ensuring reliable, high quality fisheries data. The Species Verification Program is one of the ways we make sure observers correctly identify the species they encounter.
The program validates the accuracy of species identification by requiring observers to photograph or submit samples of commercially important species. The program began in the early 1990s, mostly focused on endangered, threatened species, and large pelagic species. It was greatly expanded in 2010 when all observers were issued digital cameras and the means to efficiently transfer the images to our servers. Since January 1, 2010, the program has received more than 300,000 images!
One of the great features of the program? If an observer is uncertain about any species they encounter—whether it’s a mammal, turtle, fish, or invertebrate—they can send it into us. We’ll tell them what it is—often before their next trip!
We support observers by ensuring their species identification skills stay sharp. We also maintain records to regularly evaluate identification accuracy, and provide a basis for ensuring the highest level of data accuracy. We do this through a combination of training and testing requirements.
Training and Resources
Observers receive a camera during initial observer training classes. They are trained to capture images that focus on features of an animal that are unique to that species. Clear images of the whole body, fins, and gill rakers on fish, for example, allow even very similar-looking species to be correctly identified.
Observers must photograph or correctly submit whole specimens from a list of 30 commercially or ecologically important species once each calendar quarter, if encountered. Observers must also submit photographs of every protected species (i.e., marine mammals, seabirds, and sea turtles) and large pelagic or other priority species (i.e., sharks, rays, tunas) they encounter. High volume fisheries, such as those targeting Atlantic herring, have additional required species which must be submitted on every trip.
More generally, observers are encouraged to submit photos or specimens of every species they encounter over time, so we can be sure the species they record are correct. All submitted images or samples are viewed and verified by at least 2 trained program staff, usually within 24–48 hours of receiving them. The verified result along with staff comments and suggestions, are then immediately available to observers and observer program staff.
For more information please contact Loren Kellogg.
Learn more about Training and Data Quality in the Northeast.