Observer Program

Hawaii Observer Program

In the late 1980s there was a rapid expansion of the Hawaii longline fishery for the pelagic species (i.e. tuna, swordfish) in part due to the relocation of U.S. longline vessels form the east coast and the Gulf of Mexico. This unprecedented and uncontrolled increase in fishing activity raised serious concerns about the impact of longline fishing on the stocks of fish being harvested and other Hawaii-based fisheries for pelagic species. Reports of longline fishery interactions with the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and several species of listed sea turtles emerged in the early 1990s. For a better understanding and to reduce impacts of this fishery on protected species, interim emergency rules were promulgated. These temporary measures (rules) included Federal longline fishing permits; mandatory logbooks; official identification numbers; and notification to NMFS when a longline vessel intended to fish within a 50 nautical mile protected species "study area" around French Frigate Shoals, Gardner Pinnacles, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, Pearl and Hermes Reef, Midway Island, and Kure Atoll of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to allow for mandatory observer placement upon request.

The pelagic longline fishery based in Hawaii operates mainly in the Northern Central Pacific Ocean. This fishery is managed through a Fishery Management Plan (FMP) developed by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council and approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The NMFS has determined in its Biological Opinion issued in November 2002 through the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that the Hawaii based pelagic longline fishery is likely to adversely affect Leatherback, Loggerhead, Olive Ridley, Green and Hawksbill sea turtles.

Another species of concern is the Hawaiian population of False killer whales, Pseudorca crassidens. Research done in late 2003 indicates the need for more information to assess the impact of the fishery on the species.

The Hawaii-based pelagic longline fishery targeting swordfish and tunas has been monitored under a mandatory observer program since February 1994. In 2000, the Hawaii swordfish fishery was closed and reopened in 2004 with restrictions on allowable gear used in the fishery. Beginning FY 2000, the Pacific Islands Observer Program (PIOP) significantly increased its observer coverage. To illustrate: In the period March 1994 to September 2000, 322 observer trips were completed, averaging 46 trips per calendar year from 1994 to 1999. From October 2000 to September 2001, 234 observer trips were completed, representing over a 500% increase from that in the previous years. Based on vessel operations in 2005 over 400 trips were observed. In addition, the program was able to establish a core of multi-disciplined observer debriefer/resource management staff to work with observers as they return from sea.

Vessels registered with Hawaii Longline Limited Access permits are required to carry observers, when directed to do so by the NMFS to document the incidental capture of sea turtles. The data are used to verify turtle takes as well as seabird and marine mammal interactions in the fishery. Other data on the fishery are collected to support research undertaken by fisheries scientists at the Pacific Islands Fishery Science Center (PIFSC). The research is directed at several different issues such as; understanding the basic biology of the species encountered, identifying factors that influence the bycatch rates of selected species, and the economic factors that affect fishing behavior for example.

A Unique Partnership with the State of Hawaii

In October, 2001, the NOAA Grants Office approved a grant proposal funding Alu Like, Inc, a Hawaii-based, non-profit, charitable organization that specializes in providing employment, training, and workforce development programs to the Native populations. Under the grant, Alu Like recruits and trains U.S. and U.S,-affiliated Pacific Islanders and Native Americans to work as NMFS fisheries observers in the Pacific. Most contracted observers are college graduates with a degree in one of the biological sciences and some have observer experience in other fisheries within the United States. However, many Native people do not qualify for observer positions. This program provides training to Native people so that they can be certified as trained observers and hired by the observer contract provider. Individuals are recruited from the local Native population, are screened, and brought into the program to participate in what has come to be known as "The Native Observer Program." Candidates must first successfully complete a 10-day Marine Options Program which is offered thorough the University of Hawaii and then successfully complete the NMFS three-week observer training course. Upon successful completion the candidate is certified by NOAA Fisheries as a longline and bottomfish observer and is eligible to apply for an observer position with the observer contract provider.