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Resource Ecology &
Fisheries Management

(Quarterly Report for Jan-Feb-March 1998)

Status of Stocks and Multispecies Assessments

Status of Stocks and Multispecies Assessments staff in collaboration with geneticists from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Seattle, Washington,  conducted an analysis of length-at-age and weight-length growth patterns from over 500 Atka mackerel (Pleurogrammus monopterygius) and 37 protein-coding gene loci.  The purposes of the study were to analyze geographic variation in genetic and growth patterns of Atka mackerel collected during the 1993 and 1994 NMFS summer trawl surveys  in the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands region, respectively, and to determine the relationship among Atka mackerel stocks in the Aleutian Islands region.  Atka mackerel growth data differed significantly by area for length and weight characteristics, suggesting the formation of local aggregations which develop differential growth patterns.  However, potential stock delineations based on growth patterns were not supported by the genetic data.  Atka mackerel showed a high degree of genetic variability.  Variation was detected at 30 of 37 loci; 14 of the 30 loci were variable at the P0.95 level.  Average heterozygosity for 329 specimens was 0.137, an unusually high value for a marine fish.  Between-sample variation among samples was extremely low (FST = 0.004), suggesting considerable gene flow throughout the range represented by the samples.  Based on the genetic data, the null hypothesis that the samples came from a single genetically homogenous population of Atka mackerel was not rejected.  It is presumed that gene flow occurs throughout the population through the dispersal of pelagic larvae and juveniles. We concluded that despite the genetic homogenization, phenotypic variation in Atka mackerel post-larvae life history stages warrants consideration in fisheries management.  The results of this analysis were presented at the 1998 Western Groundfish Conference in Asilomar, California, and a paper on the subject is in press for Fishery Bulletin.

By Sandra Lowe.

U.S. Groundfish Observer Program

During the first quarter of 1998, 162 observers were trained, briefed, and equipped for deployment to fishing and processing vessels and shoreside plants in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, and Aleutian Islands.  They sampled aboard 231 fishing and processing vessels and at 18 shoreside processing plants.  These observers were trained or briefed in various locations.  The AFSC Observer Program in Seattle briefed 68 observers who had prior experience.  The University of Alaska Anchorage Observer Training Center trained 25 first-time observers and briefed 67 prior observers.  At the Observer Program’s field office in Dutch Harbor, two more observers were briefed.  The first quarter 1998 observer workforce thus comprised 15% new observers and 85% experienced observers.

The Observer Program conducted a total of 80 debriefings during the first quarter of 1998.  Two debriefings were held in Kodiak, 12 in Dutch Harbor, and 66 in Seattle.

At its February 1998 meeting, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved the third-party, joint partnership agreement with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) to provide observer procurement services starting in 1999.  Under this modified pay-as-you-go Observer Program, the PSMFC would act as an interface between observer companies and vessels or shoreside plants required to carry observers, thus resolving some conflict of interest issues.  The current Interim Observer Program, where fishing vessel owners obtain observers directly from observer contracting companies, will continue through 1998.

The Council also requested that NMFS resume work on a fee-based observer procurement system.  Under this system, which is authorized in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, vessels and processors participating in halibut, crab, and groundfish fisheries in the Exclusive Economic Zone off Alaska would pay up to 2% of the landed value of their catch. This money would be used to procure and deploy observers consistent with coverage requirements.  Implementation of the fee collection portion of the program is targeted for the year 2000.

Substantial improvements in our information systems were implemented in 1997 and early 1998.  Electronic reporting of observer sampling data from sea is now occurring on about 70 vessels and will be further implemented to cover all fisheries by the end of 1998.  This will provide the Observer Program with an improved ability to solve sampling problems which observers encounter at sea and will streamline the debriefing process.

By Bob Maier.

Age and Growth Task

Estimated releases of production ages for January to March 1998 were flathead sole—466, rock sole—336, Dover sole—247,yellowfin sole—466,walleye pollock—187, sablefish—715, Pacific whiting—1,760, for a total of 4,177.  Also, 1,057 were tested, 541 were updated, and 63 were examined and determined to be unreadable.

By Dan Kimura.

ECOSYSTEMS MODELING:  Russian Trawl Data From 1952 to 1977 Available on Orca

Members of the Resource Ecology and Ecosystems Modeling Task have developed an Oracle database that contains trawl data collected during Russian research surveys of the eastern Bering Sea shelf in the years 1952 and 1957-77.  Over 14,000 hauls were conducted from Norton Sound south to the Alaska Peninsula. Haul, catch, and length data were collected on more than 150 species. At present, only data on the following species are available in Oracle tables: Pacific cod, walleye pollock, arrowtooth flounder, flathead sole, Pacific halibut, rock sole, yellowfin sole, longhead dab, starry flounder, Alaska plaice, Greenland turbot, and  26 species of Cottidae grouped under the general category of sculpins. The data are in the tables FOODLAB.VIDAR_HAUL, FOODLAB.VIDAR_CATCH, and FOODLAB.VIDAR_LENGTH.  Plans for the database include adding data from the remaining species and adding further data acquired from the Russians in their surveys of the Gulf of Alaska and Washington-Oregon-California coast regions.  For assistance using these data, contact Doug Smith, (, (206)526-4225).

By Doug Smith.

Food Habits of Pacific Hake off Northern California and Southern Oregon

Because of its large biomass, Pacific hake (Merluccius productus) is an important predator in the California Current ecosystem. The impact of Pacific hake on other commercially valuable species has been the object of several studies.  During the 1995 NMFS Slope Surveys the stomach contents of 377 Pacific hake were collected from waters over the outer continental shelf and upper continental slope in the Eureka INPFC (International North Pacific Fisheries Commission) area from approximately Cape Mendocino, California to Cape Blanco, Oregon.  By weight, the stomach contents consisted mostly of euphausiids (31%), flatfish (25%), sergestid shrimp (13%), lanternfish (13%), cannibalized Pacific hake (8%), and pink shrimp (3%).

hake2.jpg (33670 bytes)
Figure 1. Diet composition by weight of Pacific hake size categories sampled during the 1995 slope survey of the Eureka INPFC area.

The importance of euphausiids in the diet decreased with increasing size of Pacific hake (Figure 1 above).  The diet composition of Pacific hake examined in this study contained more lanternfish and sergestid shrimp and less pink shrimp than other studies conducted in the Eureka INPFC area.  Differences between the results of this study and other studies conducted in the same area were attributed mainly to the water depths where the samples were collected (Table 1 below).

Table 1. - Summary of studies on feeding habits of Pacific hake in the Eureka INPFC area.
Study Season Size (cm) Number w/food Depth (m) Diet: weight (W) or volume (V)

Gotshall 19691





(V) 44% pink shrimp, 29% fish, 18% euphausiids

Livingston 19832





(W) 98 % euphausiids

Buckley &
Livingston 19973





(W) 60% euphausiids, 35% pink shrimp

This study





(W) 46% fish, 31% euphausiids, 13% sergestid shrimp

1Gotshall,  D.W.  1969.  Stomach contents of Pacific hake and arrowtooth flounder from northern California.  Calif. Fish Game 55:75-8.
2Livingston, P.A.  1983.  Food habits of Pacific whiting, Merluccius productus, off the west coast of North America, 1967 and 1980.  Fish. Bull., U.S. 81:629-636.
3Buckley, T.W. and P.A. Livingston.  1997.  Geographic variation in the diet of Pacific hake with a note on cannibalism. Calif. Coop. Oceanic Fish. Invest. 38:53-62.

By Pat Livingston.

Socioeconomic Assessment Task

The Task participated in the following activities in support of the Pacific and North Pacific Fishery Management Councils, the implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other cooperative efforts within the Agency and beyond.

  • Council Activities

  1. Inshore Offshore Allocation III.  Task members assisted in preparing a status report and the draft analysis environmental assessment-regulatory impact review-initial regulatory flexibility analysis (EA/RIR/IRFA) for the February and April council meetings, respectively.

  2. Cost Recovery Program for the IFQ and CDQ Programs.  The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires the Secretary of Commerce to implement a program to recover the management and enforcement costs of the Alaska Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) and Community Development Quota (CDQ) programs.  Task members assisted in preparing a draft proposal for the cost recovery program.

  3. Increased Retention and Utilization (IRU). Task members assisted the Regional Office in preparation for the IRU Industry Working Group meeting to review post-implementation issues with the IRU program.

  4. Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).   Task members assisted in preparing a draft SEIS for the Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries.

  5. Aleutian Islands Atka Mackerel Management.  Task members assisted in preparing the draft EA/RIR/IRFA for an amendment package containing alternatives that incorporate various combinations of apportionments by season and area—inside and outside of critical habitat areas—for purposes of reducing the effects of this fishery on Steller sea lion populations.

  6. PFMC Groundfish Management.  A task member prepared and presented projections for the 1998 fixed-gear sablefish three-tiered fishery and presented preliminary results from an analysis of the viability of an industry-funded buyback of limited-entry permits.

  • Magnuson-Stevens Act

Task members contributed to implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act by:

  1. participating in a successful effort to use a broad definition of “bycatch” in the NMFS Bycatch Plan

  2. preparing the Alaska bycatch summary for the short version of the NMFS Bycatch Plan

  3. reviewing a paper and preparing information for the National Research Council (NRC) review of IFQ programs.

  • Other Cooperative Activities

Task members participated in the following cooperative activities:

  1. review of the NOAA State of the Coast information system

  2. development of programs to collect and model economic data for the Pacific Coast and Alaska commercial fisheries

  3. development of the Alaska Fisheries Information Network (AKFIN)

  4. development of a socioeconomic communication group within NMFS

  5. review of a Sea Grant research paper

  6. review of the draft EA/RIR/IRFA for monitoring the expanded CDQ program

  7. participation on the Pacific Fishery Management Council Groundfish Management Team

  8. preparation of information for Senate Bill 1221, the American Fisheries Act

  9. preparation of papers for the International Institute for Fisheries Economics and Trade.

By Joe Terry.