Seventeen students from Nuuchah-nulth Nations learned about the importance of harvest monitoring in early March, thanks to a partnership between Uu-a-thluk, Ecotrust, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

The two-week course delivered by Ecotrust readied students to work as fisheries observers in the commercial, recreational and First Nation fisheries. Topics included both at-sea and dockside observation, with a focus on groundfish and salmon fisheries. Students who successfully completed the two-week course will be eligible to be designated as Certified Fisheries Observers by DFO.

“One of the primary reasons for doing this training in this format is to begin developing a pool of Nuu-chahnulth people who are certified fisheries observers,” says Jim Lane, Uu-a-thluk’s southern region biologist. “Certification opens the doors to employment in a wide range of commercial and recreational fisheries monitoring. It also provides Nations with people who can improve the catch monitoring of their own fisheries.”

Third party monitoring of fishing activity has long played a role in BC’s fishing industry. The first commercial catch reporting began in the 1950s with daily records of transaction between fishermen and buyers. Today, monitoring and reporting is the norm in all fisheries. Depending on the fishery, that could include third-party observation of catch activity, verification of catch after the fact, and a variety of validation and reporting in between.

“Observers verify the catches I am reporting and compare them to how the rest of the fleet is reporting their catch,” says Errol Sam, a commercial fisherman and harvest management coordinator for Uu-athluk.

As a member of the Area G troll fleet, Sam believes that monitoring and reporting catches is essential for a healthy salmon fishery. “If you were just letting fishermen go and do reports, they might not report accurately or on time,” he says.

Verifying catches leads to better fisheries management.“Observers are trained for all species,” says Sabrina Crowley, Uu-a-thluk’s associate biologist. “Even birds that might get entangled in nets. They’re trained from mammals to fish to invertebrates, whereas the fishermen are focussed on the catch of interest.”

Creating a complete picture of each fishery’s impact is one goal of fisheries monitoring. And as Nuu-chah-nulth Nations work towards building community fisheries, more and more nations are eager to equip their members with monitoring skills.

These skills include the species identification mentioned above by Crowley, but also knowledge of fisheries management regulations, proper procedures for data collection and notetaking, chart reading and navigational understanding, and many other topics. For this reason, the observer training spans two weeks and includes classroom and lab time and field trips.In addition to preparing students to work in future fisheries, the training offers more immediate opportunities in the workforce.

Dockside monitors work on shore in the commercial fisheries such as groundfish, salmon, shellfish and herring documenting the offload activities of commercial fishing vessels. This includes identifying fish species, recording offloaded weights, and monitoring compliance with fishery regulations.

Recreational fisheries monitors work to monitor catch and effort through a dockside creel survey. This includes interviewing fishermen, performing catch validation, identifying species, and taking biological samples. Other monitors in the recreational fisheries may be employed to estimate effort in a given area through on-water boat counts or over-flights.

At-sea observers work on boats gathering information about the fish caught, sampling for stock assessment and other scientific research, and providing detailed catch and release reports.

Understanding the importance of harvest monitoring and catch reporting is an important skill for individuals and nations looking to create a future in economic fisheries and improve their Food and Ceremonial catch estimates. Says Errol Sam, “As Nuu-chah-nulth people, we have guiding principles, which are  iisaak (Respect with caring) and  hishukish tsa’walk (the understanding that everything is connected). These principles hold the rationale for accurate catch reporting.”