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Re: Data Bases/Confidentiality/Observers


Steve Branstetter <[log in to unmask]>


[log in to unmask]


Wed, 4 Dec 1996 10:43:40 -0800





text/plain (1 lines)

Andrew Applegate wrote:
> In the USA, fishery statistics that the government requires businesses
> to submit as part of a fishery management plan are governed by the Magnuson
> Act. Section 303(d) of the Act states:
> "Any statistic submmitted to the Secretary by a ny person in compliance
> with any requirement under subsections (a) and (b) shall be confidential and
> shall not be disclosed; except
> (1) to Federal employees and Council employees who are responsible for
> management plan development and monitoring;
> (2) to State employees pursuant to an agreement with the Secretary that
> prevents public disclosure of the identity or business of any person; or
> (3) when required by court order.

Deviating slightly from the initial concept, there is an interesting
facet in data collection in the US; that observer data, whether gathered
through obligatory or voluntary participation of the vessel, is not
confidential. Up until last year, if an observer was aboard a boat, all
his/her records were subject to review by any regulatory or enforcement
personnel who might board that boat for inspection, etc. Those data, if
revealing an infraction, could be immediately used as evidence. An
alteration of those guidelines last year restricted the use of the data:
records are still subject to review, but enforcement et al. cannot use
those data as evidence against an owner/operator; either for immediate
action or during subsequent legal actions. Other forms of evidence must
be collected for such use. In other words, if observer records
indicated an infraction, let's say exceeding a trip limit, enforcement
et al. must gather additional evidence, such as waiting until the vessel
docks and monitor the offloading. On the surface, this sounds fair,
excpet that the secondary action most likely wouldn't have occurred
without the prior knowledge gained from the initial screening of the
observer records.

Confidentiality of these records is a two-edged sword; with total
confidentiality, enforcement is more difficult. Without
confidentiality, vessel owners/operators are reluctant to cooperate in
voluntary observer programs. This does not mean that all or most vessel
owner/operators are crooks and are constantly violating the regulations,
however there may be instances where a trip limit (for example) is
exceeded unintentionally by a few pounds, or even a hundred pounds (some
trip limits do not have allowable overages), or some action taken during
a trip may have been knowledgably OR unknowingly in violation of some
regulation (for example, fishing near a closed area where gear drifts or
crosses into the closed area). The concern about the possibility of
reprisal for cooperating is much greater than the desire to obtain
accurate fishery statistics. Thus, relatedly, because of the
confidentiality issue, in both obligatory (where coverage is not 100%)
and voluntary programs, there is a possibility that the fishing
activities of the vessel during observer coverage are not reflective of
activities during non-coverage periods, thus the data collected are not
truly characterizing the fishery.

If my memory is correct, only 2 sets of comments were received during
the comment period for this proposed federal rule: both from
organizations that ran observer programs and both advocating for total
confidentiality. My organization, which also runs observer programs in
2 fisheries also responded similarly, but apparently these comments were
not received. In any event, these issues were addressed in the final
rule notice published in the Federal Register, but the restricted
availability of observer data was still allowed.
Steve Branstetter, Ph.D., Program Director
Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Development Foundation
Ste. 997, Lincoln Center
5401 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, FL 33609
Phone: 813-286-8390 FAX: 813-286-8261
email: [log in to unmask]

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