The Ministry’s Observer Programme fulfils an important role in fisheries management through the collection of data, to assist with stock assessment, and monitoring of the environmental impacts of fishing.
An annual plan outlines the coverage and data collection, and reporting targets for the Observer Programme. In 2007/08, the programme delivered 6,754 days at sea, an increase of 785 days on the coverage total achieved in the previous year.
This includes significant progress with the surface-lining fishery. Coverage in this fishery has increased markedly (399 sea days in 2007/08, up from 242 in 2006/07), and is now close to the coverage level needed to meet our international monitoring level obligation of 10 percent of catch and effort by species and area, as set by the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT).
Improving capability – new Observer qualification
The role of an on board Observer can be a challenging and often isolating experience. It is important for the Ministry to select individuals with the personal and professional skills to cope with the demands of working and living at sea in what can be difficult conditions.
In March 2008 the Ministry’s new NZQA-approved Observer qualification achieved registration. This qualification has been in development for several years and required Ministry staff and industry representatives to agree on the standards to be included. The result was the creation of eight new unit standards for the qualification, which has a total of 24 compulsory unit standards. We’re now delivering 13 of these unit standards as part of the training course for new Observers. The other unit standards can be achieved over time through on board experience, or through recognition of prior learning.
Advances in Observer data capture
In 2007/08 the method of data capture used by the Ministry’s Observers was reviewed. The decision was made to introduce electronic laptops or ‘tablets’ to replace the paper-based system. Customised data-recording software with in-built error-checking capability was developed. At sea trials were then carried out to rigorously test the ruggedness of the tablets and to assess whether the software was fit for purpose.
The introduction of the tablets means quicker access for scientists and stakeholders to the data once the Observers are back on land. It also dramatically reduces the time and money spent on data-entry. It is estimated that once fully implemented, this system will save up to 95 percent of data entry costs and the process, that now takes up to three months, will be reduced to a matter of days or even hours.