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Data Quality: Observer Coverage

What does this indicator measure?

This indicator measures the percentage of catches that are observed by third-party individuals on fishing vessels.

Access the West Coast Shorebased IFQ Program Interim Results and the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program Interim Results for Ecological Indicators

Why is this indicator important?

When species have highly restrictive quotas (or limited numbers of allowed interactions in the case of threatened, endangered, or protected species), there are incentives to discard and not report catches of those species instead of paying to lease quota to cover those catches (or of risking closure of the fishery for reaching threatened, endangered, or protected species limits). The higher the observer coverage, the less often unreported catch or interactions will occur. In addition, observers can provide high-quality estimates of discards, capture important biological data (length, age, maturity), and confirm species identification of catches. All of these effects ensure much higher data quality for scientific assessments of fishery status or in-season management, and lower the incentives for fishers to circumvent regulations.

How is this indicator measured?

We will report the percentage of the total catch that is covered by observers for each fishery before and after the catch share programs were implemented. Reports from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) regional observer programs will provide the base data.

What are the strengths and limitations of this indicator?

This indicator is a good proxy for the quality of the data being provided to managers for the fishery. Some studies have suggested that fishers may change their behavior when observers are on board. This is most problematic when observer coverage is low, since fishers can choose to take a short fishing trip, fish in a different location, or change their fishing practices in other ways when an observer is on board, and then revert to their former practices when an observer is not present.