West Coast Observer

  • Saltwater Inc.
  • California to Washington
  • May 07, 2021
Biology - Ecology

Job Description

Observers in the West Coast program work aboard commercial fishing boats collecting biological data on target and bycatch. They monitor marine mammal and sea bird interactions with fishing gear and, check vessel deliveries to verify species identification and weights. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) uses this information to set fishing quotas and monitor the health of fish stocks.

Boats in the West Coast fleet range in size from 18-foot longliners to over 70-foot trawlers. Working conditions vary widely and some vessels may not have bathrooms or showers.

Observers must be flexible, resourceful, able to work long hours, and strong enough to do some heavy lifting (up to 80 pounds). The workday is determined by the vessel’s fishing schedule and NMFS sampling protocols, and can range from 5-15 hours a day. Trips last from 1 to 5 days and multiple back-to-back deployments are common.  As with all our observer jobs, we encourage — and reward — repeat contracts.

For more details on the program and observer requirements, see the summary on right or visit the official WCGOP site.Opens in new window

When not onboard vessels, observers live in selected ports along the West Coast of the United States, from Washington to California. Assignments may be based out of port towns such as:

  • Bellingham, WA
  • Westport, WA
  • Astoria, OR
  • Newport, OR
  • Coos Bay, OR
  • Brookings, OR
  • Crescent City, CA
  • Eureka, CA
  • Fort Bragg, CA
  • San Francisco CA


  • Provide independent catch estimates of target species and bycatch.
  • Sample species composition.
  • Provide fish ID and measurements.
  • Collect biological samples.
  • Monitor marine mammal and bird interactions.
  • Document fishing activity (set times, positions, gear performance, etc.).
  • Record and report all data to NMFS.
  • Comply with all regulatory requirements.
  • Carry out assigned special projects.

Minimum Qualifications

  • 30 semester hours in applicable biological sciences.
  • 5 college level credits in math and statistics.
  • College course using dichotomous (taxonomic) keys.
  • A CPR and First Aid certification


Observer training is an intensive 3.5-week course offered by NMFS at various times throughout the year in Newport, OR. Candidates must pass this training to be eligible for a contract with Saltwater.

Job Level