North Pacific observers collect biological data while living aboard commercial fishing vessels working in the North Pacific Ocean and eastern Bering Sea. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) uses this information for in-season fishery management and to establish sustainable fishing quotas for future fishing seasons. The North Pacific is a highly productive ecosystem which is home to enormous fish resources as well as a host of wildlife including many whale species, Steller sea lions, sea otters, seals and an amazing selection of seabirds. Observer data is critical to ensuring the sustainability of the valuable marine resources.
Observers work on boats that range in size from 60-foot longliners to 600-foot processing factories. Working conditions on fishing boats vary widely but all are almost always challenging in Alaska, where cold, wet weather is the norm. Biologists typically work out on an open deck, often for hours at a time, or for long periods of time in factories. Observers must be flexible and resourceful in establishing a sampling station and sampling methods, and capable of heavy lifting. Observers determine their own workday depending on the vessel’s fishing schedule and NMFS’ sampling protocols. Sampling and paperwork often require observers to work long and odd hours, seven days a week. Shifts range from 5 to 15 hours a day, and it’s rare to sleep uninterrupted for eight hours. Trip lengths vary from as little as a few days to as long as 30 days or, very rarely, 8 weeks at sea. Observer contracts are typically for 90 days and can be renewed indefinitely. We encourage — and reward — repeat contracts.
For more details on the program and observer requirements, see the summary on right or visit the official website: NOAA North Pacific Observer Program.
General observer requirements, plus:
To be eligible to work as a North Pacific observer, candidates must attend and pass an intensive 3-week class. NMFS conducts training in Seattle at various times throughout the year. Saltwater selects candidates from qualified applicants, and pays for their time, meals, and room and board during training.
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