NOAA logo AMJ 2000 Quarterly Rpt. AMJ 2000 sidebar

Resource Ecology &
Fisheries Management

(Quarterly Report for April-May-June 2000)


During the second quarter of 2000, 180 observers were trained, briefed, and equipped for deployment to fishing and processing vessels and shoreside plants in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, and North Pacific waters off the coasts of Oregon and Washington.  They sampled aboard 197 fishing and processing vessels and at 19 shoreside processing plants.  These observers were trained or briefed in various locations.  The University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) Observer Training Center trained 35 first-time observers and another 64 observers with prior experience were briefed at this site.  The Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) Observer Program in Seattle briefed 66 observers. At the Observer Program’s field office in Dutch Harbor, one more observer was briefed and 14 were excused from briefing because they had just completed a cruise successfully and were returning immediately to the field.  The second quarter 2000 observer workforce thus comprised 19% new observers and 81% experienced observers.

The Observer Program conducted a total of 197 debriefings during the first quarter of 2000.  Three debriefings were held in Kodiak, three in Dutch Harbor, 30 in Anchorage and 161 were held in Seattle.

Observer Program Review

An extensive, independent review of the Observer Program began in late 1999.  The review is being conducted by Marine Resources Assessment Group (MRAG) Americas, Inc.  MRAG is an independent consulting firm which provides professional advice and services for the management of marine fisheries throughout the world.  The purpose of this review is to provide recommendations for changes in program operations and organization which might improve the program’s ability to meet its mission and goals.  Their final report along with a response from the AFSC was made available in late June 2000.  MRAG is also under contract to design a multispecies, biological sampling protocol and statistically based method of catch estimation for use by observers.  The completion of this second project is expected in November 2001.

In addition to the MRAG review, the Observer Program is also being reexamined this year along with all other NMFS observer programs, through the annual NMFS management control review (MCR)  process.  The newly established National Observer Program Advisory Team (NOPAT) will be actively involved in this endeavor.  NOPAT consists of representatives from all NMFS regional offices, science centers, and observer programs and is coordinated  through the National Observer Program office of NMFS. The North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program’s contribution to the MCR report will be completed this summer. The entire national MCR report is scheduled to be available by the end of September 2000.

Observer Program “Cadre” Takes Shape

New office space in Anchorage has been designed, constructed, and leased in the Federal building annex, to house ten new Observer Program employees.  These new employees along with the existing two positions in Anchorage will make up the Observer Program “Cadre.”  The cadre will be an inherently flexible unit of employees that can be deployed as needed to ports throughout Alaska.  They will increase the Observer Program’s presence in the field and allow for more “front line” communication between NMFS, observers, and the fishing industry.  Todd Loomis, the Anchorage field office manager, has been selected to lead the Cadre.  The first group of new employees to join the Cadre will be hired this summer.

Second Biennial U.S-Canada Fisheries Observer Program Workshop

AFSC Observer Program staff participated in the second biennial U.S.-Canada Fisheries Observer Program Workshop in St. John’s Newfoundland, held 26-29  June 2000.  The first workshop, hosted by the AFSC in 1998, was developed to bring together some of the key organizations responsible for the design, management, and delivery of at-sea fisheries observer programs in the United States and Canada.  The second workshop was expanded in scope to include greater representation from the fishing industry and observers.  Two highly experienced, North Pacific groundfish observers attended the workshop.  The workshop objectives were:

  1. to facilitate discussions of the role of observer programs as management, compliance and scientific programs, within the broader context of alternative fisheries monitoring systems

  2. to address some of the key issues related to the delivery of observer programs, from the perspective of governments, service providers, the fishing industry, and observers

  3. to explore current applications, limitations, and future uses of scientific data collection from observer programs.

For more information about the workshop visit the website at

By Bob Maier.


Estimated production figures for 1 January to 31 June 2000 are shown here.

Walleye  pollock




Atka mackerel


Pacific whiting


Pacific ocean perch


Northern rockfish


Light dusky rockfish


Total production figures were 13,156 with 3,402 test ages and 178 examined and determined to be unageable.

The Alaska Fisheries Science Center again hosted the biennial CARE (Committee of Age Reading Experts) Meeting held 6-8 June 2000.  The meetings serve the critical role of allowing all age readers to communicate their thoughts and techniques on all aspects related to the ageing of groundfish caught off the West Coast and Alaska.  The meeting’s theme this year was “Back to Basics,” referring to going back and comparing estimated ages of specimens examined under the microscope.  A large number of species including Pacific whiting, sablefish, thorny head, walleye pollock, black rockfish, and lingcod were examined.

By Dan Kimura.


Scientists from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center attended the Western Groundfish Conference in Sitka, Alaska,  from 24 to 28 April.  Members of the Status of Stocks and Multispecies Assessment Program attended the conference and gave presentations dealing with various fisheries topics, including four presentations related to Atka mackerel biology and abundance estimation.  

  • Improving abundance estimation of Atka mackerel, by Susanne McDermott, Peter Munro, and Lowell Fritz.

Atka mackerel exhibit aspects of their behavior and biology that make the species difficult to survey with the current standard trawl gear and stratified random sampling design. The intent of this study is to improve the understanding of Atka mackerel distribution patterns and biology and use this knowledge in the design of a species-specific survey for Atka mackerel.  Four different estimation approaches were briefly discussed with emphasis on Atka mackerel tagging.  This summer a pilot survey was conducted to test the feasibility of tagging Atka mackerel. Preliminary results were discussed and put in context with the goal of improving Atka mackerel survey design.

  • Atka mackerel fecundity study, by Susanne McDermott and Katherine Pearson.

Atka mackerel fecundity and spawning biology is crucial information needed in designing a spawning survey for Atka mackerel.  Atka mackerel are batch spawners with females spawning multiple batches and depositing them in nests guarded by males.  This study was conducted to determine batch size, batch number and total fecundity of Atka mackerel.  Methodology and results were presented and it was shown how these parameters can then be incorporated into a design of an Atka mackerel spawning survey. 

  • Larval and juvenile Atka mackerel (Pleurogrammus monopterygius) distribution in Alaskan waters: A retrospective study, by Sandra Lowe and Rebecca Reuter.

Atka mackerel are an important forage fish for groundfish, seabirds and marine mammals, including the endangered Steller sea lion. Atka mackerel  are an important commercial fishery in Alaska, and comprise the largest groundfish biomass in the Aleutian Islands region.  Knowledge of their early life history from egg-larval stages to the juvenile stage is very limited.  This study utilizes incidental catch data of Atka mackerel from four historical surveys in areas ranging from Kodiak Island to the western Aleutian Islands to describe the distribution and abundance of juvenile and larval Atka mackerel caught over a 30-year period. Spawn dates back-calculated from larvae lengths suggest that spawning in the Gulf of Alaska occurs during the late summer-early fall.  Similar findings were found for the eastern Bering Sea. Increase in the variance of lengths per haul during the spring and winter months in the Gulf of Alaska suggest that optimal spawning conditions can span several months.  Juveniles were found in the epipelagic areas of Bower’s and Bering Sea basins during the summer of 1987; this is the first documentation of this behavior in U.S. waters.  Juveniles were also found near adult nonspawning habitat in the Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska.  Increased knowledge of the larval to prerecruit life history of this species will provide valuable information necessary for the assessment and management of Atka mackerel. 

  • Analysis of Catch-Per-Unit-Effort Data from the Alaskan Atka mackerel (Pleurogrammus monopterygius) fishery: Evidence for localized depletions,  by Lowell Fritz and Martin Smith.

Leslie regression analyses of Atka mackerel fishery catch per unit effort (CPUE) data collected at 10 fished areas in the Aleutian Islands region and Gulf of Alaska in 1992-97 revealed significant reductions during the course of  19 of 39 local fisheries examined. At a particular area, significant reductions in CPUE resulted much more often with large removals than small.  Length-frequency distributions and the time-series of catches and effort suggest that the exploited populations were not closed in all cases (e.g., immigration was evident in some), yet the rates of removal (or emigration) apparently far exceeded rates of immigration. Examination of the statistical properties of the data and estimated regression parameters suggest that while there is considerable evidence of significant declines in CPUE, estimates of initial biomass (BO) may not be unbiased.  However, BO estimates from different years at the same location were similar, suggesting that the fishery utilizes areas preferred by adult Atka mackerel, that these areas are replenished over time, and may have a “carrying capacity”.  Temporary reductions in the sizes of local Atka mackerel populations could affect other Atka mackerel predators, such as the Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus).

By Anne Hollowed.


Stomachs collected totaled 1,828 from the eastern Bering Sea and 1,090 from the Aleutian Island region.  Laboratory analysis was performed on 672 groundfish stomachs from the eastern Bering Sea, 1,961 from the Gulf of Alaska, and 365 from the west coast region.  Fourteen observers returned 791 eastern Bering Sea groundfish stomach samples (580 Pacific cod, 211 arrowtooth flounder) during the quarter.

By Patricia Livingston.