Observer program on track, funding still not set
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council came to order this morning with a lengthy review of the regulatory process, followed by a progress update on the restructured observer program scheduled to take effect in 2013.
Martin Loefflad of NOAA said implementation is on schedule. A presolicitation notice was posted last week seeking contract bidders for observers, and the proposed rule should be published before April 1.
There will be three field hearings to take public comment after the proposed rule is published. They are tentatively scheduled for April 17 in Seattle, April 19 in Newport, Ore., and May 2 in Juneau. If the proposed rule isn’t published before April 1, those hearings will have to be rescheduled.
The final rule could be published by Nov. 1, and by Dec. 1 at the latest to take effect in 2013. At the fall council meeting, Loefflad will present a preliminary plan of how the agency will deploy observers and the council will have opportunity to give input. The critical part of that conversation will likely center on rates of coverage, and which fleets may be selected as priorities for greater observer coverage.
Council members Dan Hull, Duncan Fields, Ed Dersham and ADF&G Commissioner Cora Campbell expressed strong disappointment that the electronic monitoring component of the rule won’t be implemented along the council’s original intent.
The council’s final action in October 2010 would have allowed for vessels in the 40 foot to 57 ½ foot range to choose electronic monitoring instead of taking an observer.
The council was informed this morning during staff reports that vessels will be notified that not all who request electronic monitoring will have it available to them, and if they are selected for coverage they must have an observer on board.
Loefflad emphasized the EM will be deployed in 2013, just not to the extent the agency or council would like. He also noted that the agency’s criteria for waiving a coverage requirement may be a vessel’s willingness to take EM.
The other big issue with the observer program is money. The full $3.8 million in one-time startup costs hasn’t been secured as of yet, although the agency informed the council that it was trying to scrape the funds together from multiple sources.
A letter from Doug DeMaster told the council he was able to secure $175,000 for EM. Another $600,000 has been appropriated from the Observers/Training line item in the 2012 budget Loefflad now has available to work on implementation.
However, only $2.8 million in discretionary funds remains for all of National Marine Fisheries Service, and that number is also subject to change as NOAA has not yet finalized its 2012 budget.
One casualty of the recent budget cuts was the University of Alaska Anchorage Observer Training Center. The OTC was used for observer training, refresher training and debriefing.
Observer training and most debriefing will now be centralized at the Seattle office, though some refresher training will still be conducted at OTC. Loefflad said the staff has been cut from 8 to 3 employees over the past couple years.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.