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Domestic Observer Jobs in Alaska

fisheries observer jobs photoOne critical job in Alaskan aquaculture is the role of domestic observer. Basically, an observer is a person who works for months at a time on fishing or processing vessels, working alongside the regular employees to collect information on that respective industry.

Observers collect data on the amount of fish or other species caught and processed so that the governing organizations can ensure the fisheries are being sustainably managed.

Other data to be collected by the observer includes the location of fisheries, the number and type of species harvested, size frequencies, sex ratio and other specific biological data. The observer will also monitor how the fishing or processing crews comply with local and federal regulations, as well as record any accidental takes of other mammals and birds. The data contributes to how governmental organizations manage quotas both during a season and in future seasons.

The role has been managed since 1972 through the National Observer Program of the National Marine Fisheries Service, a department of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Salmon, halibut and crab are the primary species involved, although just about every Alaskan fishery has some form of observer involvement.

Payment for an observer ranges from approximately $4,000 to $6,000 per month, dependent on experience and location. A typical assignment will also include room and board, as well as paid travel expenses to and from the location.

The program generally requires an applicant have at least a bachelor’s degree in some form of biological sciences. In addition, all observers must go through a training program prior to being allowed to perform their duties. Several private companies are in the business of providing trained observers to the Alaskan fishing industry. Typical training courses last three weeks and provide instruction on topics such as sampling techniques, species identification and sea safety. Applicants usually must pass a test after completing the training to proceed with the observer program. Part of the test is usually whether or not an applicant can put on a safety immersion suit in one minute and climb into a life raft in the water.

An observer generally will go to sea with the fishing crew for two to three weeks at a time and usually commits to working that schedule for a period of months during the specific species fishing season.

Therefore, the observer is expected to live in or relocate to a home port in that region.

Since the observer works alongside the fishing or processing crews themselves, hard work is the norm.

Observers must be able to withstand long hours on their feet and capable of handling heavy loads around 50 pounds.

The observer must be prepared to leave behind many amenities he/she has become accustomed to. For example, phones and computers are generally not provided or accessible while out at sea.

The following links will provide more information on domestic observers:

The Association for Professional Observers
Alaskan Observers - A Washington-based corporation that helps provide trained observers to the domestic fishing industry.
Saltwater Inc. - A company providing trained observers to the Alaskan fishing industry.