Fishery observers and at-sea monitors are our eyes and ears on the water. They collect data from U.S. commercial fishing and processing vessels as well as from shore-side processing plants. Observers are professionally trained biological scientists gathering first-hand data on what’s caught and thrown back, which supports science, conservation, and management activities. The high-quality data they collect are used to monitor fisheries, assess fish populations, set fishing quotas, and inform management. Observers also support compliance with fishing and safety regulations.
Observers and at-sea monitors are professionally trained biological scientists, with a bachelor's degree in natural sciences and rigorous training.
Observers work in U.S. waters, including the vast Alaska fisheries in the North Pacific and Bering Sea, the Mid-Atlantic shark gill net fishery, the Georges Bank scallop and lobster fisheries, and many more.
Observers may spend days, weeks, or even months aboard commercial fishing and receiving vessels gathering first-hand data on what's caught and thrown back by U.S. commercial fishing vessels.
To manage fisheries, data are needed not only for species targeted by a fishery, but for all species making up the impacted ecosystem. Observers are the only independent data collection source for some types of at-sea information, such as bycatch, catch composition, protected species interactions, and gear configuration.
Learn more about how we use observer data
Bycatch or incidental catch is a complex, global issue that threatens the sustainability and resiliency of our fishing communities, economies, and ocean ecosystems. We are committed to minimizing bycatch in U.S. fisheries to ensure our fisheries remain sustainable and that protected species are given the best chance to recover. Observer programs are the only independent (and most common) source for many types of information about fishing operations, including catch and bycatch data.
Learn more about bycatch
In fisheries where it is too dangerous or otherwise not feasible to have observers, other data collection methods are used to track catch, including logbooks, surveys, and electronic monitoring and reporting. Electronic monitoring is an important technological advancement that supplements the work fishery observers and at-sea monitors do, while keeping them as safe as possible.
Learn more about electronic monitoring
Ensuring observer safety and a professional working environment is a top concern of NOAA Fisheries. We have developed and implemented world-class safety and training programs. Preparing observers for safe deployments requires an active partnership between NOAA Fisheries (including our Office of Law Enforcement), observers, observer providers, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the fishing industry.
Learn more about how we are working to ensure observer safety
Data collected on fishery interactions with protected species (marine mammals, sea turtles, certain populations of fish, and endangered seabirds) aid scientists in developing measures to reduce the risk of fisheries interactions.
Learn more about how we use data on fishery interactions with protected species
Sustainable fisheries is a global issue that calls for sharing critical issues among international fishery observer programs, emerging monitoring technologies, and other approaches to fishery-dependent data collection and analyses.
Learn more about international observer activities
Learn how fisheries observers collect data vital to the sustainable management of our nation’s fisheries.