Tuna/Porpoise Observer Program:

More Needs to Be Done to Identify and Report Harassment of Observers

RCED-91-38: Published: Nov 2, 1990. Publicly Released: Dec 7, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) management and operation of its tuna and porpoise observer program, intended to monitor U.S. tuna fishing operations' compliance with regulations protecting porpoises.

GAO found that: (1) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) observers experienced one or more types of harassment on about 18 percent of the 191 cruises listed in its database between 1985 and June 1989; (2) no evidence showed that harassed observers were influenced to underreport the number of porpoises killed; (3) training and procedural problems in the tuna and porpoise observer program adversely affected the identification, documentation, and reporting of harassment; (4) observers had no means to confidentially report harassment; and (5) NMFS controls over the data collection and reporting did not adequately ensure that observers correctly counted kills.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Observer training instructions have been improved to identify, document, and report harassment.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the tuna/porpoise observer program, the Department of Commerce's Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere should direct the Assistant Administrator, NMFS, to implement improvements in the training program to help observers to better identify, document, and report harassment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: Office of the Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Observer personal status reports involving vessel captain discussion and owner participation, when needed, were developed and implemented on May 1, 1991.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the tuna/porpoise observer program, the Department of Commerce's Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere should direct the Assistant Administrator, NMFS, to provide the observers with means by which to quickly report problem harassment, such as maintaining adequate personal safety radio codes and requiring vessel owners to contact their captains on problem cruises.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: Office of the Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Observers are not told to report all instances of harassment, however minor, during their pre-cruise meeting. The department has also redesigned the record book, developed a post-cruise questionnaire, and uses a personal enforcement interview to reveal and document any incidents of harassment.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the tuna/porpoise observer program, the Department of Commerce's Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere should direct the Assistant Administrator, NMFS, to reemphasize the requirement that observers document cases of harassment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: Office of the Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department has developed a definition of harassment which was distributed to owners and operators of U.S. tuna boats on May 1, 1991.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the tuna/porpoise observer program, the Department of Commerce's Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere should direct the Assistant Administrator, NMFS, to clearly define, and communicate to all parties, what constitutes harassment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: Office of the Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: U.S. observers on vessels monitored by the Commission now directly radio porpoise kill data to NMFS for processing.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the tuna/porpoise observer program, the Department of Commerce's Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere should direct the Assistant Administrator, NMFS, to improve the internal controls over porpoise kill data by seeking an agreement with the Commission that its observers report by radio directly to the Fisheries Service each week.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: Office of the Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere

 

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