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Observer training programs

Observer training courses prepare students for employment as catch monitors, biological samplers or both, and guide them through the Observer certification process.

Classes are led by Ecotrust Canada staff with extensive knowledge and skills in species identification, fish management objectives and fundamentals, fishing methods, and catch monitoring methods, roles, and responsibilities. As many of our trainers were once Observers themselves, they are familiar with the equipment, data collection methods, and best practices for working on fishing vessels and docks.

Since Ecotrust Canada is also actively working as either a service provider or in the role of business or policy development consultant in fisheries around North America, our trainers are also well-versed in current fisheries-specific management objectives and national fisheries regulations.

Community Benefit

Our training programs reinforce and continue to build local fisheries knowledge and capacity, with the goal of meeting the ongoing and future needs of First Nations, DFO, and the fishing industry.

Our experience working with these groups has informed the design of our training methodology and curricula; our courses meet DFO’s national standards and the fisheries specific requirements, as well as those of various First Nations fisheries programs.

Training for Other Needs

Observer training spans a wide range of fishery-related topics. The 11-day Comprehensive Course in particular has been used as a broad training base for current and prospective employees in a number of other positions:

  • First Nations Guardian Watchmen
  • Resource Management Staff
  • DFO Staff
  • First Nations Fisheries Technicians

Available Curricula

There are two different types of Observer Training Courses:  an 11-day comprehensive course designed to give students a solid foundation in fisheries monitoring and management and a 3-day fishery-specific training module designed to qualify students for employment as fishery Observers.

DFO requires a number of other certifications as a condition of employment. These certifications are not offered by our courses, but we can help students apply for them.

11-day Comprehensive Course

The 11-day training course takes place over the course of two weeks. The first week of the training course serves as an introduction to fish biology and fisheries management by addressing the following subjects:

  • Fisheries Management, Acts and Regulations
  • Catch Monitor/Observer Programs, roles and duties
  • Data collection and note-taking
  • Vessel types and fishing operations
  • Seabird and marine mammal classification
  • Vertebrate and invertebrate species identification
  • Fish classification and use of dichotomous keys
  • Rockfish and mackerel identification
  • Use of dissecting/sampling equipment and biological sampling methods (what, why, how) including:
    • Scale and DNA samples
    • Parasite samples
    • Fin ray & otolith removal
    • Aging structures
    • Length & weight measurements
    • Sex determination
  • Types of tags used in fisheries
  • General catch monitoring and estimation
  • General dockside weigh-out procedures
  • Chart reading and navigational understanding
  • Water sampling techniques
  • Navigation and weather

The second week of the course shifts to a more practical understanding of fisheries management and monitoring by covering the following topics:

  • Traceability, Mark Recovery, and Creel Survey Programs
  • Selective Fishing Methods
  • First Nation fisheries co-management and monitoring programs
  • Vessel Safety and etiquette
  • Hands on training
  • Fisheries Specific data collection and recording techniques

The second week also includes a field trip day so students are able to see fish plant and fishing vessel operations first-hand. During the trip, students gain hands-on experience with species identification and the use of scales, and get an opportunity to view different gear types. This field trip acts as a link between the general training and fishery-specific training.

Throughout the training course, students have the opportunity to seek out additional tutoring from Ecotrust Canada instructors, ensuring that all students gain the knowledge they need to succeed as fisheries Observers. The day before the final exam, training staff host a half-day tutorial/study session so that interested students can review any material as needed. An open book exam at the end of the 11-day course acts as a review and helps to prepare students for the DFO-moderated exam at the completion of training.

3-day Fishery Module

This course is designed for training individuals to become At-Sea and Dockside Monitors for a specific fishery. Course modules can be added to customize course curriculum. A salmon training course, for example, might include:

  • Salmonid life cycle and species ID
  • Salmonid dissection w/ external and internal anatomy
  • Use of dissecting/sampling equipment and biological sampling methods (what, why, how) including:
    • Scale and DNA samples
    • Parasite samples
    • Fin ray & otolith removal
    • Aging structures
    • Length & weight measurements
    • Sex determination
  • Fishery-specific vessels and fishing operations
  • Fishery-specific catch monitoring and estimation techniques
  • Fishery-specific dockside monitoring procedures

Certification Series

DFO designation requires that Observers hold a number of additional certifications. While Ecotrust Canada does not offer these training programs, we will work with individuals and groups in order to help them get access to these courses. These certifications include:

  • Basic offshore survival techniques training course approved by Transport Canada
  • Seafarers Medical Course with certificate
  • First Aid Certificate
  • Maritime Radio-Telephone Operators Restricted Certificate

Final Outcomes

The completion of either the 11-day or 3-day training course with a passing grade of 75% or higher will qualify students for Designated Observer status, and along with successful completion of required certifications will make them eligible for employment as Fisheries Observers.