At Sea Monitor Training

At-sea monitors are certified by the National Marine Fisheries Service after 11 days of training in Falmouth, MA.  The number of training sessions held each year depends on effort requirements and monitor staffing levels.  The Training Center can accommodate up to 18 participants per training session. The training covers the following major areas:

  • Data collection protocols and data log completion
  • Fish Identification
  • Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Identification
  • Fish Sampling Requirements
  • Offshore Survival Training (flares, fire extinguishing, life rafts, immersion suits)
  • Statistical Sampling Techniques

Extensive instruction is given on how to record data on multiple data log formats, depending on gear and sampling requirements. Lab sessions are provided to prepare trainees in fish, marine mammal, and sea turtle identification.

Training is conducted from 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday, for about two weeks. However, group vessel trips will start earlier in the day, usually at sunrise. Weekends are usually free, unless one of the group vessel trips is delayed due to weather.

Trainees should plan on spending some nights and weekends studying for the tests.  A.I.S. provides housing and meals to trainees during the training session and pays them for their time during training.

Safety Training

Two days of the training period are devoted to learning survival techniques.  Trainees will receive hands on experience in the necessary skills should an emergency arise at sea.  Some of the topics covered include:

  • Fire fighting and safety
  • Mayday calls and signalling devices
  • Survival suit donning and in-pool exercises
  • Lift raft deployment
  • Flare usage
  • Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and Personal Locator (PLB) usage


Trainees will take four exams during the training:

  • Fish Identification, this is a two part exam with an open and closed book portion
  • Incidental Take Exam, which includes marine mammal, sea bird, and sea turtle identification
  • Safety Exam, which includes a practical and written portion
  • Final Exam which covers sampling protocols and sampling requirements etc.

Trainees must score a minimum of 85% on the Fish ID, Incidental Take, and Safety exams and at least an 85% in the class.  If a trainee does not receive the minimum required score on the Fish ID, Incidental Take, or Safety exam they will be unable to continue with training and asked to leave the program.

Group Training Trips

A Group Training trip on a commercial fishing vessel provides trainees with hands-on monitor experience. Trainees usually go out on these vessels in groups of four, accompanied by two trainers. They get a chance to see how the different types of fishing vessels are laid out, how the gear is set and hauled, and how to sample the fish caught. Trainees also ask the captain a series of questions regarding expenses and gear configurations, and fill out the data forms as a group.


On the last day of training, trainees attend our ‘A.I.S. Day’ at the company headquarters in New Bedford, MA. Trainees get a chance to meet the AIS office staff and hear Area Coordinators talk about confirming trips with fishermen, working in their ports and vessel safety.

Training Trips and Certification

After successfully completing the two-week training course, trainees are required to complete a minimum of three one-day training trips on commercial fishing vessels. On one of the three trips, a Fisheries Sampling Branch member accompanies the trainee and explains how to ask the captain questions, measure the gear, take catch sub-samples, ID fish, estimate weights of catch and discarded species, and take scales and otoliths. The other two are solo trips. After each trip, the data is uploaded and the logs are sent to the Fisheries Observer Training Center for editing.

The data editors will contact the trainee after each trip and explain any problems and answer any questions the trainee may have. After three successful trips and steadily improving data quality, the trainee becomes a certified NMFS At-Sea Monitor working for A.I.S.