Waiver of Observer Requirement in HMS, South Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Extended – Waiver Now in Effect through May 4, 2020
Dear Federal Permit Holders, Partners, and Stakeholders,
Providing seafood to the Country remains an essential function even in these extraordinary times. Adequately monitoring United States fisheries remains an essential part of that process. However, in recognition of numerous travel or social distancing restrictions or guidance, NOAA Fisheries continues to temporarily waive the requirement for federally-permitted vessels participating in the following federal fisheries to carry a fishery observer:
South Atlantic Penaeid Shrimp
South Atlantic Rock Shrimp
South Atlantic Snapper-Grouper
Gulf of Mexico Commercial Reef Fish
Gulf of Mexico Shrimp
Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Pelagic Longline
Shark Bottom Longline (Atlantic HMS)
Shark Gillnet (Atlantic HMS)
This waiver is in effect April 21 through May 4, 2020, after which time we will evaluate the need for another extension. This waiver does not apply to vessels that are currently at sea with an observer on board. In addition, this waiver applies only to human observer coverage and not to electronic monitoring requirements. Note, NOAA Fisheries is not issuing waivers for participants in the Atlantic HMS Shark Research Fishery. All other requirements, including reporting and pre-trip notification call-in requirements, remain in place.
This action is consistent with criteria in the agency’s emergency rule regarding issuing waivers from requirements to carry fishing observers during the COVID-19 pandemic (85 FR 17285, March 27, 2020). Specifically, the first criterion allows NOAA Fisheries to waive observer coverage if local, State, or national governments, or private companies or organizations that deploy observers pursuant to NOAA Fisheries regulations, restrict travel or otherwise issue COVID–19-related social control guidance, or requirement(s) addressing COVID–19-related concerns, such that it is inconsistent with the requirement(s) or not recommended to place an observer(s). At this time, State and local emergency requirements to shelter-in-place and otherwise restrict travel are hindering our ability to deploy observers.
NOAA Fisheries will continue to monitor and evaluate this situation. As we have done in other parts of the country, we will use this time to work with the observer service providers to implement adjustments to the logistics of deploying observers, ensuring qualified observers or at-sea monitors are available as soon as safely possible.
Observers and at-sea monitors are an essential component of commercial fishing operations and provide critical information that is necessary to keep fisheries open and to provide sustainable seafood to our nation during this time. We will continue to monitor all local public health notifications, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for updates. We are committed to protecting the public health and ensuring the safety of fishermen, observers, and others, while fulfilling our mission to maintain our nation’s seafood supply and conserving marine life.
Note, vessels permitted and authorized to participate in these federal fisheries are monitored in a number of ways in addition to the placement of at-sea observers. For example, HMS pelagic longline vessels must adhere to the electronic monitoring program for each trip. Additionally, there are vessel monitoring system requirements for various vessels in addition to logbook submissions. Therefore NOAA Fisheries maintains the ability to collect valuable information from these fleets even in the absence of at-sea observers due to the temporary waivers associated with COVID-19.
The Southeast Regional Office, the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Division within the Office of Sustainable Fisheries, and the Southeast Fisheries Science Center will evaluate the impacts of waivers on our fisheries and observer programs throughout this period by monitoring:
Fishing activity, in comparison to when observers have been deployed, to track continued compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.
Changes in the level of fishing effort and landings.
Changes in health and safety guidelines that may affect observer availability and ability to travel.
The status of the fisheries and/or protected species that were being observed or monitored to ensure that the relevant conservation and management goals are still being met.