Most requirements for observers aboard West Coast fishing vessels have been temporarily suspended through April, following the lead of NMFS’ decision to do the same earlier for Northeast fisheries in the face of coronavirus outbreaks.

The agency announced the decision Wednesday, April 15, hours after a recommendation from the Pacific Fishery Management Council, and also cited new policies of monitoring service providers to address health and safety concerns for their observers and fishing crews.

A NMFS notice to industry issued by the office of Ryan Wulff, the assistant Pacific regional administrator for sustainable fisheries, said the two-week hiatus was requested by contractors who provide observer services, and are now implementing health guidelines to address concerns raised by fishermen and plant operators.

Those new rules include a 14-day self-isolation period before observers deploy to their assigned vessels and plants.

Agency officials will evaluate the results of the waiver, but do not anticipate extending it beyond May 1, according to the notice. However, they also anticipate social distancing requirements and other coronavirus safeguards may reduce the availability of observers, so planning will continue to prioritize what sectors of the Western fleet are most in need of coverage.

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Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for more than 30 years and a 25-year field editor for National Fisherman before joining our Commercial Marine editorial staff in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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