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State trawl survey vessels underway

Posted: May 18, 2011 - 9:20pm

Alaska Fisheries Science Center has just launched its biennial comprehensive survey in the Gulf of Alaska, during which National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers will help determine the next catch rates.

NOAA is using two chartered commercial fishing vessels, each carrying six scientists in addition to the crews, to conduct a bottom trawl groundfish survey over the next 90 days. AFSC’s deputy director of Resource Assessment and Conservation Division, Guy Fleischer, said that about 750 tows will be completed during this time.

Once complete, scientists will calculate the data on fishing efforts, catch rates and biological data to generate fishery-independent estimates of geographic and depth distribution, abundance and population size and age. These estimates should be completed by the end of September.

That information will be combined with data from the fishery and results of previous surveys to update the stock assessments produced annually for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

NOAA Public Affairs Office Julie Speegle said they will survey different species for stock assessments in the Gulf of Alaska. The results will help determine total allowable catch.

She said these surveys, which are done in various places around the state, are an important part of the process to sustainably manage fisheries.

Fleischer said the research is done under the auspices of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization as needed for setting annual allowable biological catch, overfishing levels, and total allowable catch levels for fishery management plan-governed groundfish and crab stocks.

In a press release, AFSC Director Doug DeMaster stated, “Our fisheries stock assessment teams use the newly gathered data as well as the historic data to help determine the health of the resources. That data is then used to inform decisions about future management and fishing activities in the Gulf of Alaska to ensure the sustainability of the fish stocks for current and future generations.”

Fleischer said the surveys are used to look at a variety of commercially valuable species.

“One of key uses of the information is to develop status and trends for those that are commercially valid,” he said.

Fleischer said these surveys are often the only source of fishery-independent fish and crab information for federally managed species for the fisheries. He said the surveys provide up-to-date information on the relative abundance and size and age compositions of species such as walleye pollock, Pacific cod, yellowfin sole, northern rock sole, and crabs. He said additional biological, habitat, oceanographic, and acoustic information collected during each survey are used to improve understanding of life histories for the fish and crab species as well as the ecological and environmental factors affecting their distribution and abundance.

The vessels Ocean Explorer and Sea Storm set out Wednesday. Each is identified with visible “NOAA Research” or “US Research” signs.

Fleischer said it’s important the public be able to identify the trawlers to avoid concern about the vessels. He said communities along the coast may be caught unaware until they realize the chartered vessels are for AFSC research.

The two vessels left from Dutch Harbor and will travel along randomly selected sites to take samples. They will sample near the Islands of Four Mountains, go east along the continental shelf past Kodiak, then to the Dixon Entrance at the Canada Border. Sampling will conclude around Ketchikan.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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