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Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Fishery Resource Analysis and Monitoring FRAM - Fisheries Observation Science


Observer Program
Observer Program Operations and Analysis
The Fisheries Observation Science Program (FOS), at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC), executes multiple fishery-dependent data collection programs designed to collect the critical information needed to effectively manage important West Coast fisheries. Fisheries observers are deployed on vessels delivering catch shoreside as well as those processing at-sea to quantify the overall mortality of numerous marine species resulting from commercial fishing activities. The observer program collects critical biological and fishery effort data that inform groundfish stock assessments affecting large and small-scale groundfish fisheries economically important to dozens of West Coast communities. Observer data are used real-time to track quotas in the Groundfish Catch Share IFQ fishery. Observer program bycatch reports, monitoring, data collection, and research activities are also used to conserve ESA listed species under multiple agency-issued Biological Opinions (BiOp).

Research Themes

Recovery and rebuilding of marine and coastal species
The Pacific Northwest is home to several iconic endangered species, including Pacific salmon and killer whales, and several rockfish species. Mandates such as the Endangered Species Act, MagnusonStevens Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, grant NOAA Fisheries the authority to manage the recovery of depleted species and stocks. The NWFSC contributes to species recovery through research, monitoring and analysis, providing NOAA managers and regional stakeholders the tools and information they need to craft effective regulations and develop sustainable plans for recovery.
Sustainable, safe and secure seafood for healthy populations and vibrant communities
Effective fisheries management provides economic opportunities and ensures the long-term sustainability of fisheries and the habitats on which they depend. The NWFSC seeks to improve the quality and quantity of data used in stock assessments, the methods for assessing stocks and ecosystem sustainability within the context of human modification of the environment. The NWFSC also provides state-of-the-art science and technology to support aquaculture while protecting and maintaining ecosystem health. Further, pathogens, toxins from harmful algal blooms (HABs), chemical contaminants and other stressors of marine ecosystems pose significant risks to health of both seafood resources and to humans. The NWFSC focuses on research to improve understanding of those risks, how to forecast them, and identify means to mitigate their impacts.

Research Foci

Characterize the population biology of species, and develop and improve methods for predicting the status of populations
To evaluate species status and recovery, it is necessary to understand key aspects of the population biology of the species in question. This includes basic information on abundance, age structure, recruitment, spatial distribution, life history and how the species interacts with its ecosystem. For some recovering species, including most overfished groundfish stocks, many ESA-listed Pacific salmon stocks, and high profile species such as Southern Resident killer whales, this basic information is often reasonably well understood. For other recovering species, such as Pacific eulachon and some ESA-listed rockfish species, even basic information (e.g. stock abundance) is unknown. Even for well-studied species, key information on survival rates for critical life stages and how the environment affects these vital rates is lacking. Without basic information on species dynamics, achieving other goals such as quantifying relationships between human activities and species recovery or even knowing if species recovery goals are being met will not be successful. The NWFSC, in partnership with regional stakeholders, including states, tribes and industry, is conducting research to collect and monitor critical demographic information for recovering species.
Provide scientific support for setting annual catch limits and measure results of annual catch limit implementation
Effective fisheries management is dependent upon reliable estimates of current stock status and projections of likely future status. Work in this area focuses on several key research components. The first goal is to improve stock assessments and applications. NWFSC stock assessment scientists are currently using and developing state-of-the-art data collection and assessment methods. Priority research in this area includes continuing improvement of existing methods, development of methods for data-limited species and making these high-end techniques readily available to assessment scientists around the world. A second priority is to improve data for stock assessments. Stock assessments rely on both fishery-dependent and fishery-independent information. NWFSC scientists are involved in designing and implementing surveys, improving and enhancing data collection methods, including developing advanced technologies for ocean sampling, and evaluating the results of those surveys. Annual surveys are conducted to collect data on targeted species, habitats and ecosystems; the data are vital inputs to mathematical models used to inform management decisions. Third, NWFSC scientists measure and estimate fishery-related mortality for bycaught and discarded species. Reliable estimates of the numbers and distribution of non-target species affected by the fishery is a critical component of effective fisheries and protected resource management in the short-term (within season management measures) and long-term (e.g. restricted area definition). Scientists develop and improve data collection for this purpose, as well as improve analytical methods for estimating this catch.
Support effective catch share management and evaluation
Catch share programs use allocations of target and by-caught species to individuals, with the goal of improving the safety and profitability of the fishery while reducing environmental impacts, particularly with respect to bycatch. This type of Individual Transferable Quota program was implemented for the West Coast Groundfish fishery in 2011. While the catch share program itself is a management construct, evaluating its effects and providing key information about immediate harvest and bycatch status are science issues. Research to support this catch share program falls within four areas. First, identifying cost-effective monitoring systems is imperative. Currently, the West Coast groundfish fishery requires 100% observer coverage. Determining whether an electronic monitoring program that meets scientific, management, enforcement and fishery information needs and is cost-effective is a key priority. In collaboration with industry, states and fishers, NWFSC scientists are currently designing monitoring systems, evaluating their effectiveness and assessing trade-offs in information quality and costs for these programs. Second, catch share programs are designed to provide individual accountability and flexibility and increase the overall profitability of the fishery. Determining to what degree these goals are achieved, how changes are made and their impacts on fishing communities is a key element of improving management in the long-term. Third, NWFSC scientists are evaluating the biological, ecological and social impacts of the catch share program. As a result of increased flexibility, catch shares programs are also anticipated to alter human interactions with the ecosystem, in the timing of fishing activities, fishing intensity on at least some species, and potentially on the location of fishing activities. Any of these changes are likely to have cascading effects on the status of stocks and the systems upon which they depend. The NWFSC is actively working with NOAA and academic scientists to evaluate these effects. And last, it is important to improve data delivery systems for management. To provide the flexibility and accountability that a catch shares program promises, data must be available to fishers and managers in near-real-time. NWFSC scientists are working to improve existing database systems and add novel components allowing greater accessibility to data.


Catch Shares,
Data development methods
Contributing to the development/evolution of new/existing data collection programs, such as fish surveys or fishery sampling, or recovering useful electronic data from archived forms.
Fishery Observer
Scientists deployed aboard fishing vessels to collect catch and biological data
Fishery data preparation
Preparing data for use in stock assessments ad other analyses. Includes topics such as weighting and expansion of data collected via sampling.
Groundfish Biology
fishery bycatch
fishery dependent
fishery dependent data collection and analysis


Groundfish Mortality Report
International Fisheries Observer and Monitoring Conference
Marine Mammal Bycatch Report
Observer Data
Observer Metadata
Observer Newsletter
Observer Program
Pacific Halibut Bycatch Report
Salmon Bycatch Report
Seabird Bycatch Report


Class Actinopterygii
ray-finned fishes
Class Aves
Class Bivalvia
bivalves, bivalves and clams
Class Calcarea
calcareous sponges
Class Cephalopoda
Class Demospongiae
demosponges, horny sponges
Class Elasmobranchii
Class Hexactinellida
glass sponges, hexactinellid sponges
Class Scyphozoa
jellyfish, jellyfishes, scyphomedusae
Class Thaliacea


Christa Colway
Jason Eibner
John LaFargue
Jon McVeigh
Program Manager
Kate Richerson
Kayleigh Somers
Neil Riley
Phillip Bizzell
Timothy Peretti
Toby Mitchell
Vanessa Tuttle
Project Group Lead