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Fisheries Observer Training

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
Pinger Training

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.

Guest Lectures

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.

FSB Group Photo

Safety Training

Fisheries Observer 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.


Trawl Training Trip


Group Training Trips

Group Training fishing trips on a commercial fishing vessels, provide trainees with hands-on observer experience. Trainees usually go out on these vessels in groups of four, accompanied by two trainers. Trainees get a chance to see how the different types of fishing vessels are laid out, how the gear is set and hauled, and how to sample the fish caught. Trainees also ask the captain the required questions, and fill out the data forms as a group.

Training Schedule

Training is conducted from 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday, for about three weeks. However, group vessel trips will start earlier in the day, usually at sunrise. Weekends are usually free, unless one of the group vessel trips is delayed due to weather.

Trainees should plan on spending some nights and weekends studying for the tests. NMFS provides housing and meals to trainees during the three-week training session. AIS, Inc. pays the trainees a weekly salary of $480 during training.

On the last day of training, trainees attend our ‘AIS Day’ at the company headquarters in New Bedford, MA. Trainees get a chance to meet the AIS office staff and hear Area Coordinators talk about setting up trips, talking with fishermen, working their ports and vessel safety.

Training Trips and Certification

After successfully completing the three-week training course, trainees are required to complete a minimum of four one-day training trips on commercial fishing vessels.  On the first trip, a certified Observer Trainer accompanies the trainee and explains how to ask the captain questions, measure the gear, take catch sub-samples, ID fish, estimate weights of catch and discarded species, and take scales and otoliths.  The next three are solo trips.  After each trip, the data logs are sent to the Fisheries Observer Training Center for editing. 

The data editors will contact the trainee after each trip and explain any problems and answer any questions the trainee may have.  After four successful trips and steadily improving data quality, the trainee becomes a certified NMFS Fisheries Observer working for AIS,Inc.

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