In April 2013 I was privileged to attend and present at the International Fisheries Observer and Monitoring Conference that took place in Viña del Mar, Chile. I submitted my abstract – Observer Safety Training Across USA Observer Programs- and was chosen to be a presenter in the panel Reducing Risk In A High Risk Job out of the over 200 abstracts the steering committee received from 26 countries.
A very tall man sits next to me on the flight from Miami to Santiago. I feel terrible for him as his legs clearly do not fit in our coach accommodations. I get my pillow and blanket all situated for a long 14 hour flight and smile at this very tall man who begins some small talk. “If I am asleep and you need to get past me go ahead and wake me up. Have you ever been to Chile? Why are you going? ” he politely asked me. I took a big sigh and began the long winded explanation that no one ever understands, “I’m going to the International Fisheries Obs…” when he cut me off. “I’m John!” he blurted out. “LaFargue?” I asked back. “Yes, that’s me!” I hit my forehead with my palm and laughed and told him my name. He is a member of the steering committee and in particular the lead for the panel I would be speaking at. We had exchanged emails and been on all the same email chains regarding the conference for weeks, if not months, leading up to the conference but had never met in person.
I found the IFOMC a wonderfully overwhelming experience. To participate in the conference and receive positive feedback from an international audience was such an honor. I felt a huge sense of camaraderie among all the observers in attendance, knowing that there are people around the world who choose a life and career (neither of which are easy at times) similar to mine. It was enlightening to hear that observers in other countries are also feeling the unfortunate ripples of budget cuts and often feel unrepresented and under compensated as part of this completely atypical workforce. The conference chairman, Oscar Guzmán, made a point to always recognize the hard work that observers do.
It was so helpful and productive to meet people from other observer programs in our country. Often going months without seeing any NMFS personnel is quite normal, but it was very rewarding to discuss topics such as observer safety, new electronic gear, program obstacles, etc. with the people who actually work on those issues “in-house”. I also believe that it’s really important for end-users to put a face to the allusive “observer”. The conference created a great atmosphere for people on all levels of the observer program, from the observers themselves, to those working on updating electronic gear, to end users, to providers, to NGO’s, providing a platform to mingle and learn about each others roles in the world of fisheries observing.