November 8, 2003
"These required changes will help us obtain more accurate and timely fisheries data from observers," said NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger. "To meet our in-season management requirements, we need to receive data from observers soon after it is collected rather than after a one to two week delay, which happens sometimes."
Fisheries observers working on vessels off Alaska and at shore-side processing plants collect data on total fishing catch, discards, and prohibited species catch. Observers also take biological samples that are used for fishery stock assessment.
According to information provided the National Marine Fisheries Service, under the news rules, groundfish catcher vessels in the Bering Sea or Gulf of Alaska that carry one or more observers at all times, and all catcher-processors and shore-side processors that have observers at least 30% of the time, will be required to upgrade--or install--and maintain specified communication hardware to support observer communications.
At least 60 vessels and processors will be affected.
New communication software, combined with updated computer hardware requirements and point-to-point modem communication equipment, will allow daily electronic transmission of standardized electronic catch data. The new system will give improved data recording efficiency, which will diminish errors. It will also promote faster, more efficient, and effective debriefing of fisheries observers.
Data are currently compiled and faxed into the office of the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program in Seattle when the vessel comes to a shore-side plant to unload the catch. Data relay is often delayed when fishing vessels depart before the observer can compile and fax all the data. Even after the faxed data are received in Seattle, they must be entered into electronic databases by hand, another relatively slow and laborious process.
The new rule modernizes equipment requirements in order to meet current technology standards. Observer communications requirements for some vessels have been in place since 1995. Technology has advanced rapidly: some equipment is outmoded and maintenance can be difficult. Custom software recently installed by NOAA Fisheries requires computers more powerful than those originally installed for the observer communication system.
The rule also clarifies functionality and maintenance responsibilities, and shore-side processor observer communication systems requirements.
Operators of vessels and shore-side processors who don't have the free software for this upgrade already installed should contact Glen Campbell at (206) 526-4240.
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