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Fishery Observer Coverage

Fishery Observer Coverage has increased

Fishery observer measuring a striped bass
Fishery Observer measuring a striped bass

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What is happening?

The DEC has provided funds to NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Observer Program (NEFOP) to increase observer coverage of commercial fishing vessels landing catch in New York and fishing using trawls, gillnets or pot/traps. The increased coverage began in December of 2015 and will remain in effect until 03/31/2019. It may be extended after that if funding is available. State only permit holders may now be selected for observer coverage in addition to those fishing with federal or state and federal permits.

Target % Coverage: The target tasked coverage is an estimated 518 seadays that will cover 5% of all otter trawl trips, 7% of all gillnet trips and 2% of pot & trap trips.

Why is this happening?

The goal of these trips is to collect information on protected species including marine mammals, sea turtles and Atlantic sturgeon. The data will also be utilized to improve management of other special interest, non-target fish species which have low or unknown stock status. The primary reason this is happening is because Atlantic sturgeon are currently listed as endangered in the New York Region and, therefore, the state must apply for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for commercial fisheries landing in New York which may encounter these fish. In order for these fisheries to remain open the state must comply with this federal requirement. The state needs better information on the incidental captures of Atlantic sturgeon during legal fishing activities in order to be able to complete this application. The best way to get this data is through observer coverage. However, the existing level of coverage is too low to provide adequate information. In addition, there is no information on bycatch by state only vessels. Therefore, the state is augmenting this coverage through NOAA in order to gather the best available data for the ITP application.

How does NOAA have the authority to send observers on the vessels of state only permit holders?

Because these are protected resources trips, the authorization for NOAA to put fisheries observers on the trips of state only permit holders falls under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act and Management Act (MSA) or Endangered Species Act (ESA).

How will I be notified to carry an observer?

Fisherman and fishing industry representatives will be notified in advance, whenever possible, that observer coverage will be required. Fishermen may be notified that they have been selected for observer coverage either by selection letter, phone, or in person by NMFS personnel or a designated certified observer service provider.

What are my responsibilities when carrying an observer?

  • Allowing the observer to access all areas of the vessel.
  • Allowing the observer access to communications equipment and view the navigation equipment.
  • Allowing observer to sample, retain & store marine mammal and other protected species specimens or target and non-target species specimens.
  • Notifying the observer when all commercial fishing operations begin/end.
  • Providing accommodations & food to the observer equivalent to those provided to the crew.
  • Allowing for the safe embarking & disembarking of the observer.

What are the vessel safety requirements I must meet to carry an observer?

  • All vessels MUST have a current US Coast Guard safety decal, an observer may not depart on a trip selected for coverage until the decal is up to date.
  • Personal flotation devices/immersion suits for all crew onboard (observers provide their own suit & PFD)
  • Ring buoys or other allowable flotation
  • Unexpired distress signals/flares
  • Fire extinguishing equipment
  • EPIRB registered to vessel with current NOAA SARSAT registration, battery and hydrostatic release
  • Survival craft with sufficient capacity to accommodate the total number of crew onboard including the observer

Observers are required to review emergency instructions with the vessel operator and complete a pre-trip safety check of the vessel's emergency equipment prior to departing on a trip (observers arrive early to conduct the pre-trip safety checklist). Observers will be verifying that the equipment, registrations and certificates meet the requirements listed above.

For more information and questions about increased observer coverage

If you would like a PDF version of this information, please review the Increased Observer Coverage Information Sheet for Fisherman (PDF) (505 KB). If you have trouble accessing this PDF or would like a copy sent to you, please contact the Marine Protected Resources Office at (631) 444-0462.

Visit the NOAA, NEFOP Observer Program Page for additional information.

Questions can be directed to the DEC at (631) 444-0462 or NOAA, NEFOP at (508) 495-2266.

As a fishery participant, your cooperation is important to help NMFS collect the most complete, unbiased, and relevant data possible. Good data prevent over-regulation and ensure the sustainability of our fisheries and the conservation of protected species populations.