Monitoring and Observing Systems

Global Observing and Monitoring Systems

The vastness of the global oceans, the amount of information they contain and their relevance to society qualify them as an international research priority. Furthermore, current issues such as inter alia: global climate change and sea-level rise, marine ecosytem degradation - including the collapse of several fisheries around the world and pollution, and the occurrance of extreme events such as tsunamis and El Niño/Southern Oscillation - requires not only a scientific understanding the global oceans and its systems, but also a knowledge of and familiarity with its patterns over time. To meet this need there are numerous international efforts to promote programmes for various monitoring and observing systems, with a global scope, for the world's oceans and marine ecology. These systems range from autonomous drifting buoys to human observers aboard fishing vessels around the world.

Argo: a component of the Integrated Ocean Observing System

Argo floats are deployed to measure sea temperature and salinity and compose part of GCOS, GOOS and GODAE. Argo is an international project to collect information on the upper part of the world's oceans. The 2007 goal was met to have 3,000 ocean-traveling float instruments operating producing 100,000 temperature and salinity profiles per year. By the end of 2008 there are about double that number of platforms gathering data of which 3,150 are floats. Applications include: ocean heat storage and climate change; ocean salinity changes due to rainfall; ocean-driven events such as El Niño; impacts of ocean temperature on fisheries and regional ecosystems; interactions between the ocean and monsoons; and how the oceans drive hurricanes and typhoons.

Fisheries Observer and Monitoring Programs

Fisheries observer programs provide for the collection of biological, environmental and socio-economic data for science, fisheries management, and compliance monitoring. Observer data also provide a means for verifying other independent sources of data such as logbooks and landing reports.

Observing in many countries began with monitoring foreign fishing vessels in the new EEZs during the 1970s and shifted to domestic coverage in the 1980s.

Most fisheries observer programs have developed independently in each global region to meet regional needs, but each has common issues. The issues include health, injury, liability insurance to protect observers and the vessels they observe, relationships between observers and crew, duties of observers on common crew tasks such as helping in the galley, standing watch, or on deck, and objectivity of collected data.

As an example of the importance of observer programs, the USA's National Marine Fisheries Service (part of NOAA) first put observers aboard multiple fishing vessels during the height of the dolphin/tuna affair in the 1970s, when hundreds of dolphins were being killed in each tuna set involving the herding of dolphins to catch the tuna swimming with them. Before there was a regulatory role, NMFS placed observers on tuna seiners to learn which species of dolphins and how many were involved and what was happening. In the days before laptops, observers filled out 22 page data forms for each set, detailing dolphin, tuna and crew actions, including the various ways crew worked to prevent mortalities, as well as information such as location, time lines, and oceanography, necessary for the analysts back at the lab to understand what was going on. Dozens of observers brought back data, diagrams, and ideas that formed the basis for a suite of gear and procedures. This protocol reduced dolphin mortalities by a factor of over 100, made fishing more efficient, and allowed the US industry to stay in business. Most observers now have a regulatory capacity, monitoring quota progress or compliance, but they also continue collecting information that allows improvements in stock assessments, bycatch reduction, and knowledge about the species themselves.

Observers are the eyes of the scientists as well as the regulators. Their data, combined with that from research vessels and from landings statistics, directly support both resource science and management.

Funding sources vary for each observer program. The fishing industry pays for observer coverage in some programs and countries while national funds, or perhaps a fisheries commission pays in others. In large countries, there may be many types of observer programs and many ways to pay for them.


International Fisheries Observer and Monitoring Conferences

These biennial conferences are the premier international fora for fisheries monitoring and observer program issues. The upcoming conference is expected to attract over 300 delegates from over 40 countries. Attendees will include organizers and participants of fishery monitoring programs, fishing industry groups, and end users of fishery-dependent data collection systems. The conference format includes presented papers, panel discussion sessions, a poster session, a trade show, and social events.

The Conference mission is to improve fishery monitoring programs worldwide through sharing of practices and development of new methods of data collection and analysis. To provide a forum for dialog between those responsible for monitoring fisheries and those who rely upon the data they collect.

A link to the conference and the proceedings from prior sessions is here

  • Improve the quality of fishery monitoring data through sharing of best practices for collection and analysis of information.
  • Improve the use of fishery monitoring data to support sustainable resource management.
  • Promote the international exchange of ideas and best practices from fishery monitoring programs throughout the world.
  • Improve accessibility to fishery monitoring data.
  • Support the development of new innovative data collection methods.
  • Improve the training and safety of at-sea fisheries observers.
  • Advance the development of the observer profession.

The Conferences benefit all interested in fisheries. Whether a fishing firm or its support base, a government or scientific body, or a concerned citizen, we all have a stake in improving observer programs while reducing costs. As an example, electronics and automated systems for monitoring will play a key role in these discussions.

The oceans community is invited to consider financial support to enable observers and program managers from around the world to share their ideas and experiences. Information about the Conference and about becoming a sponsor or advertiser is available at the conference website. Participation provides exposure on the web, at the conference and in over 40 countries.