Unsupported Browser Detected

Internet Explorer lacks support for the features of this website. For the best experience, please use a modern browser such as Chrome, Firefox, or Edge.

Every Day Is Different: An Observer's Perspective

January 30, 2023

Fishery observing off Long Island, New York.

Metal longline hook and snap attached to fishing line laid on a measuring board. The hook has a curved shaft and body, and a sharp barb on its end. The snap resembles a large safety pin and is used to secure the baited hook and line to the mainline used to haul and deploy the gear.

I’ve been a Northeast Fisheries Observer Program observer for 5 years. I am certified to observe fisheries that use any of these gears:

  • Gillnet
  • Trawl
  • Longline and handline
  • Pot and trap
  • Clam dredge

The majority of my trips are out of New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Maryland. Many of my trips are out of Montauk, New York. As a young woman born and raised in Bismarck, North Dakota, the fervor for Montauk is lost on me, but I do enjoy bragging to friends that I spend most of my summer in the Hamptons.

This past fall, I had a memorable trip on a longline boat targeting golden tilefish. We sailed out of Hampton Bays, New York. Most of these trips are 10 to 12 days at sea. The first few days of the trip were magnificent. The temperature was in the mid-60s. Seas were never more than 3 feet and the skies were clear. This is about as good as it gets weather-wise. Most days begin around 6:30 a.m. and end about 3:00 a.m. The crew rotates duties so the average amount of sleep is 5 hours.

A silvery fish lies on its side on a light colored measuring grid that is attached to a wooden board. The fish has darker coloration with yellow dots on its top side and lighter coloration on its belly. A blue-gloved hand at left holds a small aqua-colored stick used to fan out the fish’s top fin.
An averaged sized golden tilefish laid on a measuring board. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Nichole Nigrin

After about 5 days of hard, body-aching work, the remnants of Hurricane Nicole reached us 100 miles off of Long Island, New York. When the outer bands of the rain hit, we were only 10 miles into the 30 miles of gear we deployed. It was raining sideways. There wasn't anywhere for us to take shelter. All we could do was tighten up our foul weather gear and keep our heads down. We held on to anything that would keep us upright. This was our work environment for the next 10 hours. By the time we finished hauling the gear, I collected length frequencies on 1,600 pounds of golden tilefish.

The next day was worse with the nearby NOAA buoy recording 20 foot seas and 65 knot gusts. The third day was calmer—not calm, just calmer. The next few days after that were uneventful. On one of the last days of the trip, the crew and I witnessed a spectacular sunset and I was reminded why I love this job. Fishermen have a saying, “a bad day on the water is better than any good day on land.”

Sunset photographed from a fishing vessel deck on a choppy sea. the light is golden behind a bank of clouds.
Sunset at sea off Long Island, New York. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Nichole Nigrin

One of the things I really enjoy about being an observer is that every second of every day is new and different. You need to be ready for anything in this job. Problem solving is a mandatory skill and I love that!

Previous: Bottom Trawl Survey Creatures Great And Small Next: Conch Fishing: An Observer's Perspective

Meet the Blogger

Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on March 10, 2023

Observer Program