The Foreign Fishing Observer Program:

Management Improvements Needed

RCED-85-110: Published: Aug 12, 1985. Publicly Released: Aug 19, 1985.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) management of the Foreign Fishing Observer Program, including: (1) the process the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) follows to develop program costs for budgeting and billing purposes; (2) the issue of health and safety conditions on foreign fishing vessels; (3) the use of observer-generated information; and (4) the use of contract observers in the Northwest and Alaska program.

GAO found that: (1) NMFS used an advance estimated billing process, based on the anticipated level of foreign fishing, planned level of observer coverage, and established cost factors; (2) the billing process has restricted NMFS from pursuing its planned level of observer coverage until sufficient funds have been collected and become available for obligation; (3) with a sufficient amount of working capital, NMFS could pursue its planned program level and implement a billing system based on actual costs; (4) NMFS should establish sanctions for foreign fishing vessels considered inadequate for the placement of an observer; (5) NMFS should set health and safety standards to judge the adequacy of foreign fishing vessels; and (6) NMFS considered information obtained by observers on foreigners' compliance with fishing laws and regulations valuable to ensure that all information needs were being met. GAO also found that: (1) adjustments to the training program curriculum could be made by adopting a standard training curriculum and instructional procedures for those elements of biological data that NMFS believes should be presented to all observers; and (2) NMFS used contract observers in the Northwest and Alaska regional programs, rather than federal employees, because agency personnel ceilings would not permit it to hire enough federal employees.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On May 26, 1986, a bill, H.R. 4897, was introduced that would amend the Magnuson Act to provide authority to suspend a foreign fishing vessels' permit to fish in U.S. waters if safety standards are not met. The bill was passed as part of P.L. 99-659. NOAA recently completed draft regulations to implement the new authority, which was placed in the Federal Register in November 1987.

    Matter: Congress should amend the Magnuson Act to authorize sanctions against inadequate foreign fishing vessels.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: During FY 1988, all observer deployments were made under the supplemental program or contract to private firms. Under this program, private firms bill the foreign fishing firms directly. Foreign fishing also decreased in FY 1988. These two factors eliminated the need for implementation of this recommendation. NMFS does not intend to resubmit the legislation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should request legislative authority to: (1) provide sufficient working capital to capitalize the Foreign Fishing Observer Fund; (2) to permit NMFS to pursue a full-coverage program from the beginning of each fiscal year; and (3) use a billing system based on actual costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Since the recommendation for capitalizing the Foreign Fishing Observer Fund, there is no longer any need for a billing system.

    Recommendation: If the Observer Fund is provided working capital, the Administrator, NOAA, should: (1) implement a billing system based on actual costs; and (2) develop an information package on the billing process and procedures that would be responsive to most of the questions raised by the foreign fishing interests about their observer fee bills and program costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 1986, NOAA completed a basic set of health and safety guidelines for observers to use to judge conditions on foreign fishing vessels. Subsequently, P.L. 99-659 was passed, giving authority to impose sanctions against operators of unhealthly or unsafe foreign fishing vessels. NOAA completed regulations to implement the new authority to impose sanctions.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NOAA, should: (1) establish a time frame for NMFS to develop appropriate criteria to judge the adequacy of safety and health conditions on foreign fishing vessels that want to fish in the U.S. fishery conservation zone; and (2) provide the basis for imposing sanctions against such vessels for inadequate safety or health conditions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


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