Survey Vessel Recruiting

Survey Vessel Recruiting

As an IPHC charter vessel operator, the annual fishery-independent setline survey (FISS) work can strengthen your business plan by providing guaranteed income for you and your crew during the summer months.

To view details about upcoming opportunities, visit our Opportunities page. Contact the IPHC Survey Manager to be alerted about charter opportunities and to learn more about IPHC charters.

Income

Vessels are paid a lump sum for each charter region plus a portion of fish sales revenue. The lump sum payment is the bulk of a vessel’s compensation. All fish caught on the FISS are the property of the IPHC and are sold to offset the cost of the research program. However, to compensate for the added work at high-catch stations, vessels typically keep 10% of Pacific halibut and 50% of bycatch sales revenue as a processing payment, dependent on the contract specifics. All bait is provided by the IPHC. Lost gear will be reimbursed, and there is compensation for wear and tear on your gear throughout the survey.

In recent years, contract payments ranged from $32,500 to $165,000 (USD) for a charter region in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. In Alaska, payments ranged from $69,000 to $164,900; the more remote and the less Pacific halibut, the higher the payment. Previous years winning bids are linked here.

Charter region payment + % fish sales - Vessel costs = Your Profit

Other benefits of working in the FISS

Working in the IPHC’s FISS keeps the vessel and crew busy throughout the summer. The broad geographical range allows you to visit unfamiliar grounds and ports or focus on regions near your home port. You also become an important player in understanding and contributing to the stock assessment process.

Scope

The FISS area ranges from northern California through Attu Island to the west and St. Matthew Island and the Bering Sea shelf edge to the north, covering a depth range suitable for Pacific halibut. There are 1,200-1,500 stations fished annually, grouped for logistical purposes into charter regions. Charter regions have 40 to 70 stations and require two to six weeks to complete. A vessel may complete up to three charter regions in a summer. 

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The collected biological data are used to monitor changes in Pacific halibut biomass, growth, and mortality. Information on non-target species caught during FISS operations provide insight into bait competition, rate of bait attacks, and serve as an index of abundance over time for these species.

FISS fishing is very different from commercial fishing. IPHC’s goal is not to find the best spots with the most fish, but to adhere to the standards of the FISS, such as location, soak-time, bait size, and gear setup. FISS station location is paramount and the midpoint of a set should coincide with a station’s coordinates.

It sounds easier than it is. In fact, after their first IPHC FISS season, most vessel owners tell us the daily baiting and gear turnover is more challenging than they had anticipated because of the schedule. The stations are arranged in a grid with 10 nm between grid lines (see image below). The station locations have remained the same for over a decade with some added deep and shallow expansions to fill in gaps in coverage. In most years, four stations may be fished in a single day.

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Vessel types

All vessels hired for the FISS have been Pacific halibut longliners. However, the IPHC also conducts additional research that demands a wider variety of vessel types and sizes. If you are interested in other IPHC research charters, please contact IPHC.

Vessel lengths range from 40-120 feet (12-37 m); however, 60-70 feet (18–21 m) is most common. Running speed should be 8 knots or faster. There needs to be bunks for two to three IPHC Secretariat staff, plus three to five vessel crew members. A valid USCG inspection sticker or Canada Steamship Inspection Certificate is mandatory.

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Gear

FISS gear has strict standards. It must consist of fixed (stuck) #3 circle hooks, threaded through the front, on gangions 24 to 48 inches (61 to 122 cm) (no swivels) spaced 18 feet (5.5 m) apart on the groundline. A FISS skate is 1,800 feet (549 m) long and has 100 hooks. Generally, five to seven skates of gear are deployed at each station with up to four stations fished a day. Refer to the 2017 Charter Specifications (pdf) for additional details.

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Crew

Skippers must be experienced with fixed-hook longline fishing. The captain’s fishing experience and crew qualifications factor in to the selection process. Generally, three to five crew are needed.

Sea samplers

The IPHC recruits experienced fishery observers to work on our FISS program. We call them “sea samplers.” They are certified in safety and cold-water emergency survival. Many of the sea samplers who work as fisheries observers during other parts of the year, say the best thing about the IPHC FISS work is the teamwork and collaboration between biologists and fishermen working towards a common goal.

Typical day of FISS fishing

5 AM Set first station of the day. Then run to next station and set that gear. Run to the next station and set, and repeat up to max of four stations.
10 AM A station (also called a "set") may be hauled after a mandatory minimum of five hours of soak time. The gear is baited during hauling throughout the day, but not set again until the following morning.
7-10 PM Depending on the weather and catch, all gear has usually been hauled by 10 PM and often by 7 PM. Most vessels should also count on a few long days hauling gear until after midnight.

How do you bid on the work?

The process of bidding to work IPHC’s FISS is straightforward. An information packet, called the “charter specifications” or “bid spec package,” contains everything you need to know to submit a bid. The charter specifications describe the conditions of the charter contracts, contain a description of the work, and outline some of the potential charges incurred by vessels working outside their country of registration.

Charter specifications are generally announced each February and bids must be submitted by mid-March (the actual deadline is stipulated in the specifications announcement). After the period for accepting bids closes, vessels suitable for the work will be inspected by IPHC Secretariat staff to ensure that they meet requirements. All bidders are encouraged to contact the IPHC before completing their bids, especially those submitting bids for the first time.

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