West Coast Observer Jobs

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.

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

Saltwater Inc. is proud to be an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, or protected veteran status.

Observer Duties

  • 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

  • Bachelors of Science in a biological science or limnology; or
  • Valid NMFS certification; or
  • Prior experience as a fisheries observer approved by ADF&G.
  • One statistics course and one math course.
  • 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.

How to Apply

Click the link below to fill out our online application form. If you have any technical issues, contact our observer team. For questions about the program, contact our West Coast Coordinator, Ben Briggs.

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