Incidental Take Program
This training and support program ensures that fishery observers collect data needed to reduce protected species bycatch in commercial fisheries.
An incidental take occurs when an animal protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, or Migratory Bird Treaty Act is unintentionally captured, live or dead, during fishing operations. If an observer is onboard when this relatively rare event occurs, the information they obtain informs management decisions and helps researchers learn more about each species. Observer-collected data is an important addition to data obtained from live-captured and stranded animals.
Our observers are trained to identify and sample protected species in accordance with our research permits.
Sampling Protected Species
Protected species are sampled by photographing them to verify the species, taking multiple body measurements, tagging, and collecting genetic samples.
There are a few extra sampling steps for sea turtles, including scanning for special tags that may have been attached to the turtle by researchers. These tags have an internal microchip that is activated when it passes close to a special antenna, allowing scientists to track the turtle’s movements. Observers will also inform the vessel operator if the turtle requires resuscitation. Although resuscitation is the responsibility of the vessel operator, observers may offer additional help and support to ensure all turtles are released in the best condition possible.
Sampling at sea has limits. When a protected species is taken, observers work with captains to retrieve and recover dead whole animals whenever feasible. Whole animals can be more completely documented, analyzed, and sampled in an appropriate lab setting by scientists. Live turtles are released or may be retained and transferred for treatment if they are sick or injured.
Using Incidental Take Data
Incidental takes are documented to make sure each fishery stays within its take limits. Observers apply external tags to carcasses discarded at sea to prevent animals from being counted against the fishery multiple times.
Data and samples are sent to our Protected Species Branch and to external partners. These data are used by our agency, graduate students, universities, and museums. They use them in diet studies, stock assessments, population studies, for education and outreach, and much, much more.
While data collection is extremely important, observer safety is always our main focus. We provide all observers with personal protective equipment including latex/nitrile gloves, face shields, and disinfectant. We also teach them how to use their equipment properly to prevent injuries and to evaluate hazards of field sampling.
We support observers by being on call 24/7! Observers can contact us from land or sea with any questions or concerns regarding all things incidental.