Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Fisheries Observation Science Topics


Jon McVeigh
Program Manager
Staff Directory

Observer Program FAQs

Q: What are observers?

A: Fisheries observers are trained professionals who monitor and record catch data from commercial fishing vessels and processing facilities. Observers collect data on species composition of the catch, weights, and disposition of fish caught, seabird sightings and marine mammal interactions. Observers also collect biological data such as sexed fish lengths, weights and aging structures.


Q: Which vessels are selected for observer coverage?

A: The first year of operation the program will allocate about 75% of observer time to cover the coastwide trawl fishery. Vessels will be selected from the pool of limited entry trawl vessels so that coverage will be balanced along the coast, will cycle through all the trawl vessels approximately every two years and will prevent vessels from being drawn in consecutive periods. Selected vessels will have observer coverage for all their trips during a two month period. Data collection will focus on at-sea discards and integrate these new data with existing logbook and fish ticket data on retained catch. The remaining 25% of observer time will be used to collect data on fixed gear and on special projects.


Q: What can selected vessels expect and do to prepare for an observer?

A: Currently, each selected vessel is notified via a registered letter one to two months before the observer is to board. This notification will give a time period during which a vessel will be required to notify the NMFS 24 hours in advance of fishing so that an observer may accompany the trip. Vessels that inform the NMFS that they do not plan to fish groundfish are placed in a holding pattern. Those vessels are asked to notify the NMFS when they next plan to fish groundfish so they can be assigned an observer during that period. Once selected to carry an observer, a vessel must obtain a Coast Guard safety inspection through a dockside examination. Many vessels already routinely request this dockside examination. If a vessel has a current decal and will still be in good standing for the entire time the observer may be on board, then an additional inspection is not necessary.

Once a vessel has received notification of observer coverage, the NMFS observer coordinator will contact the vessel to discuss logistics. Whenever possible, the observer(s) from that port and the coordinator will visit that vessel, meet with the captain and crew, familiarize themselves with how to sample and confirm the emergency equipment on board. The captain must call and inform the observer program 24 hours in advance of departure. The vessel will be responsible for providing accommodations and food for the observer.


Q: How do I get a Coast Guard dockside inspection and decal?

A: A Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Exam can be obtained through any Fishing Vessel Safety Coordinator located throughout the Washington, Oregon and California area. Due to the volume of requests and the current state of affairs, advanced planning is necessary to ensure that you can get your vessel examined and in compliance before you are scheduled to carry the observer. Call the Fishing Vessel Safety Coordinators at least three weeks in advance to schedule your examination. You can arrange a mutually convenient time to have your vessel examined for issuance of a dockside examination decal. The Fishing Vessel Safety Coordinator will discuss the scope of the examination with you in greater detail.

Contact information for each Fishing Vessel Safety Coordinator is provided below:

Office Coordinator Phone Number
MSO Puget SoundDan Hardin(206) 217-6208
MSO PortlandKen Lawrenson(503) 240-7337
MSO San FranciscoRob Lee(510) 437-5788
MSO Los AngelesFran McClain(310) 732-2062
MSO San DiegoMark Walker(619) 683-6497


Q: How do I contact someone in the Observer Program?

A: The West Coast Groundfish Observer Program is part of the Fishery Resource Analysis and Monitoring Division of NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center. Contact us by phone at (866) 780-8064 or email at