Fisheries Observer Programmes

CapMarine are responsible for many observer programmes and have provided scientific observers for numerous sectors in national and international waters.

The primary role of a fisheries observer is to collect commercial catch and effort data for each fishing event. They are also required to take a sample of the catch and record the biometrics of target and non target species. Equally important is the recording of the environmental conditions during fishing operations and the interactions between fishing activities and Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species.

Scientific observers spend anywhere from 1 day to 3 months out at sea, often unsupervised and in unsympathetic conditions, before returning to be “debriefed” by our in-house coordinators. A debriefing consists of reviewing, checking and validating the data, which is then immediately captured into our electronic database system, making the data available for "real-time" and current analyses. Debriefing also involves discussing any unusual occurrences, violations observed, and any safety problems or other hardships endured during the trip. To succeed, observers must therefore have a high degree of personal integrity and stamina in order to achieve their objectives.

Some of the observer programmes that CapMarine is involved in are:

 A)  Offshore Resources Observer Programme (OROP)

CapMarine was the first service provider to be appointed the Offshore Resource Observer Programme (OROP) in 2002. Working closely with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), the aim of the programme was to achieve between 15 - 20 % observer coverage across all of South Africa’s offshore fishing sectors;

  • Hake demersal trawl
  • Hake demersal longline
  • Small pelagic purse seine
  • West and South coast rock lobster
  • Midwater trawl (targeting horse mackerel)
  • Tuna longline (South Africa and foreign)
  • Prawn trawl

CapMarine is responsible for training, preparing and deploying observers in these sectors as well as collating and capturing data in a database to be submitted to DAFF on a monthly or trip-by-trip basis

 B) Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)

CapMarine has a long standing working relationship with CCAMLR in terms of the CCAMLR Scheme of International Scientific Observation and since 1997 has been one of the leading observer providers for countries fishing within the CCAMLR Convention Area. In this period CapMarine has coordinated over 260 deployments for eight of the CCAMLR members and currently deploys on average more than 30 observers per year. The main fisheries covered are longliners targeting Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) and Antarctic toothfish (D. mawsoni) and vessels licensed to trawl for icefish (Champsocephalus gunnari).

CCAMLR trips last from three to four months at a time and observers often have to work for up to 17 hours a day. Tasks include monitoring the gear deployment, sampling the catch and observing hauling operations to monitor by-catch and interactions with other marine fauna. All data are captured on standard CCAMLR log-sheets and a comprehensive cruise report has to be submitted to the CCAMLR secretariat at the completion of each trip.

Working down in the Antarctic can be both exhilarating and frightening. In the Ross Sea pictures of icebergs and ice floes stretching out to the horizon in the midnight sun are breathtaking. However, in the middle of the Southern winter the winds down at 55° to 60° Latitudes seldom blow less than 30 to 40 knots and winds of over 80 knots (150 km/h) are not uncommon with waves of over 18 meters breaking over the vessel bows.

 C) Regional Observer Programmes (ICCAT-ROP and IOTC-ROP)

CapMarine has been working in consortium with Marine Resources Assessment Group MRAG (UK) Ltd since 2007. We are responsible for recruiting, training, purchasing gear/equipment and deploying observers on transhipment vessels for Regional Observer Programmes (ROPs) such as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), and the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC).

These observers follow a strict sampling protocol to monitor tuna longliners fishing in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Monitoring involves tallying fish transfers from fishing vessel to the carrier vessels as well as many other checks such as vessel safety, declarations and vessel monitoring systems. Species monitored include the target species; yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus), longfin tuna (Thunnus alalunga), broadbill swordfish (Xiphias gladius) as well as shark and other by-catch species.  Additionally, observers are responsible for ensuring that the transfers of southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyyi) are accurately documented and comply with  stringent documentation measures. Since our trained observers are able to distinguish between many species, their presence and expertise effectively combats  "fish laundering"  activities during transshipments.

The long-term objective of these observer programmes is to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing activities in the IOTC and ICCAT area because they undermine the effectiveness of the conservation and management measures already adopted by these Commissions. The specific objectives of the programme are to encourage operators of illegal fishing vessels to operate within the legal framework of the Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) and to enhance the quality and availability of catch data from the tuna longline vessels to improve the scientific assessments of the commercially exploited stock of tuna and tuna-like species.

 D) The South African Deep-sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA)

CapMarine works closely with the hake trawl fishery SADSTIA, providing them with a year-round, well-managed and comprehensive scientific observer programme. The programme was initiated soon after the fishery was certified as a sustainable fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in 2006 and since then has proven to be an essential and integral component in the management of the hake resource. In particular, it has assisted in splitting hake catches into two species (Merluccius capensis and M. paradoxus) thus allowing species specific stock assessments. It also provides an additional source of information that can augment the independent data collection from research surveys and the commercial catch and effort data. Furthermore it provides an essential platform for collecting samples and specimens for other important projects. For example, every year the observers collect hake tissue samples for genetic research for the Benguela Current Commission (BCC) as well as whole samples of hake and kingklip to assess parasite communities for DAFF.

Observers spend about a week at sea on the wetfish vessels (where fish are stored on ice) and about a month of the freezer vessels (fish are flash frozen) collecting data such as;

  1. Vessel data: (gear type, vessel name, specifications for gear, fishing area, effort)
  2. Catch composition data: (hake, retained bycatch and discard bycatch estimates)
  3. Biological data: (length-frequencies, weight, species identification, sex ratios, maturity stage of females)
  4. Environmental data (Beaufort scale, wind, cloud, temperature, air pressure)
  5. Bird counts and warp interactions
  6. Mitigation and compliance: (tori lines, waste disposal)

 F) Other Observer Programmes

CapMarine has been involved in several other observer programmes. For example, we have provided observers and cruise leaders for the IOTC tuna tagging project (a two year programme). We regularly deploy specialist observers for experimental research, such as in the squid fishery in the Eastern Cape (RSA), the deep-water trap rock lobster experiment (KZN) and the red-eye, pilchard and lantern fish trawling experiment. Annually we have provided an observer and monitoring service to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) for the Southern Bluefin Tuna purse seine fishery in the Australian Bight. These fish are caught annually for fattening up in cages in Port Lincoln, a practice referred to as tuna ranching.

CapMarine have also been involved in the training and placement of land-based monitors. For instance, three sampling technicians were trained and permanently stationed at land-based field stations in Saldanha Bay, St Helena Bay and Gansbaai. They undertook scientific monitoring of small pelagic catches, collecting data on species proportions and sizes, otoliths, sexual maturity as well as gut contents. We have also trained land-based monitors for the west coast rock lobster fishery to collect ad hoc information to inform the potential for seasonal expansion of the Cape Point fishing grounds. Furthermore our collaborative training programme with Nosipho Consulting provided land-based monitors for the monitoring of commercial fish landings at designated landing sites all along the South African coastline, from Port Nolloth to Durban. Monitoring activities comprise the counting, measuring, weighing, sorting, identifying and recording of commercial fish species.