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2012 Research Projects Fulfill Specific Data Collection Needs

Each year approximately 300 fisheries observers collect a range of fisheries-dependent data aboard vessels targeting groundfish within the Alaskan Exclusive Economic Zone. To ensure data quality and consistency, these observers are trained, advised, and debriefed by the Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis (FMA) Division. Trained observers are deployed, on average, over 35,000 sea-days a year, thereby offering a unique opportunity to acquire data for special scientific research projects.

Observers have a standard workload to collect catch effort, catch composition, and biological information, which varies depending on the gear and vessel type of the observer's deployment. Current sampling protocols require observers to obtain multiple samples per fishing event, fully tasking observers and limiting their time for additional projects. Nonetheless, FMA recognizes that observers aboard fishing vessels and at processing facilities offer a unique opportunity to garner additional scientific information quickly and efficiently.

To provide this additional service to the NMFS scientific community, FMA annually solicits proposals to conduct research projects (previously referred to as special projects) and obtain scientific collections from NMFS observers. These proposed projects typically address a need for information that requires 1-3 years of data or enable FMA to gradually develop and integrate a new high priority scope of work into the program.

In this second case a project can be conducted by a few observers to evaluate the feasibility of collecting the required information at sea. Modifications can be made from year to year until a determination is made whether to fully implement the collection into the standard program or not.

For the 2012 fishing year, two research projects were accepted. The first project, an Atka mackerel tag reporting rate study submitted by Principal Investigator Susanne McDermott, proposes to estimate the reporting rate of tagged Atka mackerel in the factories of catcher-processor trawlers during the Atka mackerel fishery in 2012. According to the proposal, tagged Atka mackerel were released in early summer 2011 in NMFS statistical areas 541 and 542, and most of the tag recovery effort will occur during two seasonal fisheries that open on or about 1 January and 1 June 2012. FMA recognizes the importance of knowing the proportion of tagged fish caught by the vessel that are actually recovered in the factory and reported to the observer. This project has been successfully conducted in previous years and will be assigned to observers on catcher/processor trawlers in the Aleutian Atka mackerel fishery beginning in January and ending in December 2012.

The second research project accepted for 2012 is a coral bycatch identification and collection program submitted by Principal Investigator Robert Stone. The primary objective of this project is to improve observers' identification of the diverse coral fauna collected as bycatch in Alaskan groundfish fisheries. A second long-term objective is to improve our knowledge of the distribution and species richness of important coral taxa along the Aleutian Islands Archipelago. The FMA Division has a special interest in this project as we see the opportunity for improving the information we collect and provide to a broad suite of internal and external clients beyond those proposing this project.

We have previously successfully improved species identifications of skates and grenadiers through a multi-step process involving research projects which we now plan to adopt for corals.

In addition to the research projects that will be conducted in 2012, FMA will be incorporating a previous research project into our standard collection protocols for fishery observers in 2012. The Gulf of Alaska (GOA) skate age and maturity collection submitted by Principal Investigator Christopher Gburski was first implemented as a research project in 2006. The purpose of this study has been to collect information on age, growth, and maturity of the three most common species of skate in the GOA: big skate (Raja binoculata), longnose skate (Raja rhina), and Aleutian skate (Bathyraja aleutica).

A directed fishery is targeting many species of skate in the GOA and it is imperative for fisheries managers to understand aspects of skate reproductive biology and development for stock assessment. This collection has been successfully completed by observers as a research project and will now be integrated as part of our standard collection protocols for fishery observers in the GOA.

Annual research projects can provide valuable data for a short-term project or test the feasibility of longer term standard data collections. FMA's annual call for research project proposals goes out in late spring and the deadline for proposal submission is 15 July.

By Patti Nelson

Download the complete research report:  PDF; 1.84 MB.  To view and print this document, you must install Adobe Acrobat Reader freeware. Adobe also offers free tools for the visually disabled.

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