Alaska's mandatory shellfish observer program, 1988-2000

Alaska's mandatory shellfish observer program, 1988-2000

L. Boyle and M. Schwenzfeier

Alaska's mandatory shellfish observer program, 1988-2000This is part of Crabs in Cold Water Regions: Biology, Management, and Economics
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The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) initiated its Mandatory Shellfish Observer Program in September 1988. Industry concern over the department's inability to monitor the harvest and processing of crabs bycatcher-processor vessels and at-sea processor vessels prompted the Alaska Board of Fisheries (BOF) to implement the program. Guidelines for observed vessels, observer companies, and ADFG were established by the BOF. Changes enacted by the BOF over time addressed conflicts of interest, certification and decertification procedures for observers and observer companies, and increased observer qualifications. A federal research plan to fund state crab and federal groundfish observers through a 2% fee on landings was enacted under authority of the Magnuson Act in 1994, but was repealed in 1995. A department proposal to fund crab observer coverage from the harvest and sale of crabs was developed for industry review in 1996. The BOF adopted a modified proposal in 1999. Observer coverage has been implemented on catcher vessels in selected crab fisheries. Funds from harvest and sale of crabs pay for a portion of the observer costs. Current regulations allow the department to determine observer coverage levels to meet ADFG's data collection needs. An industry task force appointed by the BOF advises ADFG and BOF on observer coverage and funding issues. While inception of the program was based on regulation enforcement, observers have become the primary means in most fisheries for gathering data for research, in season management, and developing new management measures.

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