Observers are certified by the National Marine Fisheries Service after three weeks of training in Falmouth, Ma. and after four training trips on a commercial fishing vessels. The number of training sessions held each year, depends on sea day requirements and observer staffing levels. Between 8 and 16 trainees are selected for each class. The training covers the following major areas:
- Data collection protocols and data log completion
- Fish Identification
- Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Identification
- Biological Sampling Requirements
- Safety Instruction (flares, fire extinguishing, life rafts, immersion suits)
- Statistical Sampling Techniques
- Marine Mammal Necropsy
Extensive instruction is given on how to record data on multiple data log formats, depending on gear and sampling requirements. Lab sessions are provided to prepare trainees in fish, marine mammal, and sea turtle identification. Other labs teach trainees how to take biological samples from fish (scales, otoliths, and vertebrae), marine mammals, and sea turtles.
Observers are given 2 days of Offshore Safety training. This safety course includes survival techniques, fire safety, vessel stability, Coast Guard communications, signaling devices. In addition, trainees get first hand experience in putting out fires, firing off flares, in-pool survival suit techniques and liferaft deployment.
In addition to instruction, guest lecturers present information vital to trainees understanding of observing. NMFS Marine Fisheries Scientists discuss how the data collected is used to estimate stock populations, and protect marine mammals and turtles. NOAA Law Enforcement provides background information regarding how fishermen are required to take observers and what happens if they refuse. A Coast Guard representative talks about vessel safety. Finally, a former fishermen talks about how to approach fishermen for trips, and how they feel about the program.
Trainees must pass four tests during training: two on sampling protocol, and two on species identification. The sampling protocol tests cover how to fill out the data logs and the sampling requirements for a statistical area. The fish identification test requires trainees to be able to identify 80 species of fish and invertebrates. This test is on actual fish in a ‘lab practical’ setting. The Marine Mammal and Turtle exam covers about 24 species and is based on slides of animals in the wild and on vessel decks. Trainees must average 85 and over on all four tests and must obtain a score of 85 on both the Fish and Marine Mammal exams. If a trainee does not pass the tests, they must leave the program.