Restructured Observer Program, Sign Online Petition and Send a letter

ATTENTION ALASKA LONGLINE AND POT FISHERMEN!
DO YOU KNOW YOU MIGHT BE TAKING AN OBSERVER FISHING IN 2013? NOT A CAMERA—AN OBSERVER? CONCERNED? PLEASE READ THE BELOW AND COMMENT BY JUNE 18TH!

NEW Observer Coverage Requirements

Beginning in 2013, NMFS will assess a 1.25% observer FEE on all federal groundfish and halibut vessels throughout the State of Alaska. Under the restructured observer program as proposed, NMFS will also be authorized to place human observers on any federal groundfish or halibut boats 40 feet or longer; in subsequent years, observers might be assigned to vessels under 40 feet as well. Vessels assigned observers will not be allowed to leave port until the observer is on board. If weather or other circumstance prevents the vessel from departing on schedule, the observer will be recalled after 48 hours and the vessel will have to reschedule coverage then wait for another observer to arrive.

The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, North Pacific Fisheries Association, Kachemak Bay Fisheries Association, and United Fishermen’s Marketing Association have explained to the Council and NMFS that electronic video monitoring (EM) is far less burdensome to the small boat fleet than human observers. ALFA launched a pilot program in 2010 to operationalize EM so NMFS could integrate EM coverage with human observers for 2013 implementation. The pilot program confirmed that EM provides the at-sea data managers need; EM is used extensively and successfully in Canada to monitor catch and bycatch on fixed gear vessels. NMFS has published proposed regulations that do not include EM as a viable alternative for meeting at-sea coverage requirements, and NMFS does not intend to use the fees collected from the fleet to fund development and implementation of EM.

The public comment period on the restructured observer program is open until June 18th 2012. This is the one opportunity for halibut, sablefish, pot cod and hook and line cod fishermen to fight for monitoring tools that work for your fishing businesses.

What can you do? 

Vessel owners, skippers, and crewmembers can sign the petition online at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/observerprogramem/ and write a letter to NMFS. Please state your name and the fisheries in which you participate, then explain to NMFS:
1) The restructured observer program is unacceptable unless EM is included as a preferred monitoring option for fixed gear vessels;
2) Fees collected from the fleet must be used to fund development and implementation of EM;
3) Unless EM is included as the preferred monitoring option, analysis of the restructured observer program fails to assess the economic and operational burden imposed on vessel owners, crewmen, and coastal communities.
4) Other relevant information regarding your fishing business and the ability to have EM or a human observer onboard including: safety concerns, operating around weather windows, space constraints, participation in other fisheries, or other factors that would affect your fishing business.
Address your letter to Glenn Merrill, Sustainable Fisheries, NMFS PO Box 21668, Juneau AK 99802. You can submit the letter online at: http://www.regulations.gov (click “submit a comment” then enter NOAA-NMFS-2011-0210. You can also fax your letter to: attn Ellen Sebastian 907 586-7557.
Remember: Deadline for comment is 5 pm on June 18th.

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