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West Coast Groundfish Observer Program (WCGOP)
West Coast Groundfish Observer Program (WCGOP)

The West Coast Groundfish Observer Program (WCGOP) is a collaborative program between the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The WCGOP was established in 2001 as a Cooperative Agreement between PSMFC and NMFS in response to the West Coast Groundfish Fishery being declared a failure on January 19, 2000 [1]. The main goal of the WCGOP is the collection of coast wide; year-round discard rates for the groundfish fisheries of the Pacific coast of the United States.

As of January 2012 eight species of groundfish are considered overfished by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC). These overfished species have been found to be part of mixed catches in substantially variable numbers. Consequently the use of at-sea observers is required to quantify discard rates for a variety of vessels and fisheries. Discard information is only readily available via at-sea observers. The WCGOP is the only active source for data on discard rates for the groundfish fisheries of the Pacific coast of the United States.

Before 2001 the groundfish fisheries were managed mainly through landed catch with limited data available to support the commonly used discard estimates. This approach required discard modeling with little to no actual discard data. Since the onset of the WCGOP in 2001 discard information has been collected by observers greatly improving the discard estimates by providing a sample of a percentage of the fleets discard rates by gear, area, and time. This data is used along with landing data to determine total mortality of the observed fisheries.

Activities & Achievements

The PSMFC and NMFS work collaboratively to:

• Train observers
• Devise sampling plans
• Manage observer resources
• Notify vessels of their requirement to carry an observer
• Develop means to store and transmit the data collected
• Implement Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) processes for the data collected
• Outfit observers with safety and sampling gear
• Debrief observers

A variety of observer coverage goals are in place in an attempt to meet the needs of the PFMC to adequately assess the impacts of the fisheries on the resource. In January 2011 the limited entry trawl fleet, the largest groundfish fishery on the West Coast, transitioned to a Catch Shares management system. The Catch Share Program requires participating vessels to carry an observer onboard 100% of the time the vessel is active in the Catch Share Fishery. All other groundfish fisheries that the WCGOP monitors are lumped into “non-catch share fisheries.”

The Non-Catch Share groundfish fisheries will continue to be observed by the WCGOP much in the same way the program has operated since 2001 with coverage rates determined by fishery. Observer coverage rates vary widely for these fisheries with coverage priorities focused on the limited entry sablefish fishery. Coverage rates for Non-Catch Share Fisheries are dynamic and modified in response to the needs of the PFMC. During 2011 up to 100 observers were active in the Catch Share and Non-Catch Share Fisheries.

Program Partners & Funding

The PSMFC works closely with NMFS and in particular staff at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) to accomplish the goals and objectives of the WCGOP. The program is funded with federal funding in the form of two Cooperative Agreements one for the Catch Share Program and another for the Non-Catch Share Program.

PSMFC contracts an observer provider to hire and maintain an experienced and local core of observers for the Non-Catch Share Program in addition to procuring gear and supplies to outfit observers with sampling and safety gear. Additionally, PSMFC is involved with data quality assurance through the services of eight PSMFC employed debriefers. For the Catch Share Program PSMFC does not procure the services of observers, but does provide gear, supplies, and debriefing services with the same debriefing staff that works on the Non-Catch Share Program.

Additional Information

The NWFSC maintains a website that contains background information about the WCGOP and a variety of data reports by fishery. The web address is: http://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov/research/divisions/fram/observer/.

For more information contact, Jim Benante, Program Manager, by email to jbenante@psmfc.org, or call 206.860.6794.


[1]Commerce Secretary Daley Announces West Coast Groundfish Fishery Failure” (Press Release). U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA Fisheries Service, Northwest Regional Office. January, 19, 2000. Retrieved 1.12.2012.

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