The presence of observers on fishing vessels is an effective way to ensure that rules and regulations are actually being followed.

Importantly, it also provides valuable opportunities to engage and teach the fishers about the importance of conservation and the longer term value of sustainably managed fisheries. Additionally, the fishers themselves are given an opportunity to impart their important local knowledge of the fisheries they operate within.

Independent observers on vessels who monitor and record bycatch and catches form  a very important part within effective fisheries management plans.

However, monitoring, control, and surveillance of fishing vessels and their activities are difficult tasks, especially on the high seas.

Consequently, many fisheries lack adequate observer coverage and even when a fisheries management body does have the desire to implement observers it can be too costly to implement effectively.

The difficulty in achieving 100% observer coverage can be remedied by the increasingly talked-about use of electronic control systems, such as electronic log books (where fishermen declare their catches during the fishing operation), or by on-board video surveillance that monitors the fishing operation.

The value of observers

The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), the Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) body responsible for management of the tuna fishery in the eastern Pacific Ocean, has made the presence of observers compulsory on all tuna purse seine vessels. This has been integral to successful efforts to reduce dolphin mortalities to near zero in tuna purse seine fisheries.

In the same region, a partnership between fishermen, WWF, IATTC and NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) has resulted in extensive observer coverage on the longline fleet which is proving invaluable in helping and informing fishermen about the correct usage of circle hooks as a way of reducing marine turtle bycatch from longline fisheries.

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