Northeast Fishery Observer Program

The fisheries of the Northeast Region, managed by the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Councils, represent a wide variety of target species, fishing operations, and public interests. These fisheries are subject to observer coverage to collect data on fishing activities and bycatch interactions. The Northeast Fishery Observer Program (NEFOP) collects, maintains, and distributes data on fisheries in the northwest Atlantic Ocean for scientific and management purposes. Fisheries observers are trained by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) in Tech Park, MA; however, observers are recruited and deployed through independent third-party providers. The NEFSC Fisheries Sampling Branch maintains responsibility for overseeing observer training, determining sampling frequency, managing data, and providing data summaries to support quantitative evaluations of various management measures. NMFS awards a multi-year contract to a single provider to hire and operate the daily aspects of the observer program.  MRAG Americas was awarded a bridge contract in April of 2012 while proposals for a 5 year award were reviewed by NMFS. MRAG was awarded the full five year contract in late 2012.

MRAG Americas has developed a Joint Management Structure for NEFOP and ASM

Observer Responsibilities

  • Observers have a number of responsibilities on land and sea, including:
  • Conduct a pre-trip safety inspection;
  • Communicate observer duties and data collection needs with vessel crew;
  • Collect economic information, such as trip costs (i.e. price of fuel, ice, etc…);
  • Collect fishing gear information (i.e. size of nets and dredges, mesh sizes, and gear configurations);
  • Collect tow-by-tow information (i.e. depth, water temperature, wave height, and location and time when fishing begins and ends);
  • Record all kept and discarded catch (fish, sharks, crustaceans, invertebrates, and debris) on observed hauls (species, weight, and disposition)
  • Record kept catch on unobserved hauls (species, weight, and disposition);
  • Collect actual catch weights whenever possible, or alternatively, weight estimates derived by sub-sampling;
  • Collect whole specimens, photos, and biological samples (i.e. scales, ear bones, and/or spines from fish, invertebrates, and incidental takes); and
  • Assemble information on interactions with protected species, such as sea turtles, porpoise, dolphins, whales, and birds.

The information collected by observers is used to monitor amount and disposition of catch and bycatch, understand status and trends of fish stocks and protected species, understand interactions with protected species, determine the benefits derived from fishing activities, and predict impacts of existing and proposed management actions. Data collected by observers are required under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), Executive Order 12866 (EO 12866), and other applicable law. The program is used to support the conservation and management of living marine resources in US waters.


This program differs from the Northeast Fishery At-Sea Monitoring (ASM) Program, for which MRAG Americas is also a provider, in a number of ways. The ASM program is designed specifically to account for catch and discards of fishermen participating in the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program. NEFOP covers all fisheries, which could include sector program participants. The main difference between the ASM and NEFOP programs is that monitors collect a reduced set of data, thereby reducing training time, gear requirements, and internal support resources; though it is possible for individual observers to be certified as both at-sea monitors and NEFOP observers. The ASM Program covers vessels from Point Judith, RI north to Maine. Gloucester, New Bedford, and Chatham, MA are the primary ports, but monitors deploy from numerous small ports. NEFOP observers deploy from the same New England ports, however, NEFOP observers also deploy from ports in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.  Trips in both programs range from 6 hours to 12 days.

MRAG provides bunkhouses for observer lodging throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. Observers can stay at bunkhouses during travel and some observers reside there full time. MRAG reimburse mileage, tolls and misc. expenses for travel 50 miles or greater from observer’s/monitor’s home port. If travel occurs over multiple days, lodging and meals will be provided as well.

Observers/Monitors are paid an hourly wage based on experience. Pay is based on deployed time. Observers are paid for a full day (12 hours) if they are deployed for 12 or more hours, observers deployed from 0-6 hours will be paid a 1/3 of a day (4 hours) and observers deployed 6-12 hours are paid 2/3 of a seaday (8 hours). Observer report their departure and arrival times via text messages. MRAG employs five area coordinators and nine assistant coordinators to manage day to day operations and direct observer/monitor deployment.

NEFOP and ASM Training Classes

Observer certification and re-certification courses and refresher classes are conducted regularly at the observer training facility in Tech Park.

Additional information can be obtained by contacting the MRAG Americas NE Program Manager, Danielle Kane, or online through the NEFOP Training webpage.


If you are interested in working for MRAG Americas as an observer in the Northeast Fishery Observer Program, visit our employment page.

For non-employment related questions, please contact NE Program Manager –Danielle Kane at 206-661-7438 or Observer Operations Manager – Bryan Belay at 907-677-8772.