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Observer Safety Is Our Priority

A Message from Sam Rauch,  Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs for NOAA Fisheries
September 8, 2016


U.S. fisheries are among the safest in the world. However, we cannot escape the reality that fishing boats are dangerous places and our human observers and at-sea monitors are in vulnerable situations.

Commercial fishing ranks among the most dangerous occupations. Imagine being at sea for long periods of time, surrounded by heavy machinery, stormy weather, and slippery surfaces. The working conditions are tough. Facing these same perils and hazards are our fishery observers and at-sea monitors who work alongside fishermen every day.

Observers encounter other dangers as well. Most of the time, observers are seen by fishermen as an asset, part of the science and management system helping maintain fisheries at sustainable levels.  But there are times when their role monitoring compliance puts them at odds with a crew. Unchecked, this friction can lead to a hostile workplace.   

This is unacceptable. We should never lose an observer, allow them to be harassed, or place them in unsafe situations. Their safety is paramount. It is our responsibility to make the workplace as safe as we possibly can. 

As part of our ongoing efforts, we just launched a comprehensive safety review of our observer program. The review will examine all aspects of safety and health impacting observers and at-sea monitors in each region. The review will focus on seven areas: safety reporting, communications, practices and policies, training, regulations, equipment, and international observers.

A final report will be available in 2017. After that, NOAA will work with observer provider companies to implement the results and ensure that all observers have what they need to stay safe and healthy on board.

The safety review is one part of a multi-phased effort to highlight the importance of observers and at-sea monitors over the next year. For example, we are also looking at factors that contribute to observer retention. We are asking past and present observers to lend their point of view and talk about their experiences.  From this, we hope to learn more about steps we can take to ensure a steady, strong and satisfied workforce.

At-sea monitors and observers are our eyes and ears on the water. They are colleagues who play a critical role in supporting our science and management. We owe it to them to ensure they work in a safe environment, with the right equipment, on vessels are that seaworthy. These are fundamental principles we are committed to evaluating and improving upon.


Samuel D. Rauch III
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs