Better Sitka fisheries aim of scientist's work

SITKA — Jamal Moss is one of the scores of scientists working on the most exhaustive studies to date on the fisheries of the Gulf of Alaska.


Moss, a principal investigator for the ongoing Gulf of Alaska Integrated Ecosystems Research Project, was in Sitka last week preparing for another study of Southeast fisheries. The multi-year project started with a pilot study in 2010 and focuses on the survival rates of black cod, Pacific cod, rockfish, pollock and the arrowtooth flounder.

One of the goals of the project is to gather information so that fisheries managers can “begin to ask the right questions for what it is we’re seeking to monitor,” Moss said.

As an example, Moss pointed to a study of pollock in the Bering Sea. Prior to the study, Moss said, body size was thought to be the key indicator of winter survival for pollock, but after information was analyzed it was revealed that body fat was a better indicator in determining the survival rate of young fish.

“The area off the coast of the Southeast Alaska archipelago hasn’t been studied before,” Moss said.

To learn which questions to ask about Southeast, Moss said, the study is looking at everything that relates to the survival of fish.

“In the process of assessing stocks, the federal government as well as the fisheries councils are moving towards a more holistic approach to management and factoring in other information such as the strength of El Niño (or) phytoplankton production as inferred through satellite imagery,” Moss said.

To amass that kind of data, the nearly $20 million project uses dozens of scientists working in their fields to grow the amount of baseline data known about the fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska. For Moss, that means looking at bioenergetics, the study of energy flow through living systems. When a big fish eats a smaller fish, there’s been an energy transfer and that type of data is valuable to figuring out how fish are doing.

“The ultimate goal for us as the federal government is to try to come up with a greater understanding of fisheries oceanographic dynamics in the Gulf of Alaska and find out where those strong linkages are to commercially important species so that we can design a long-term monitoring study that would give resource management agencies the information they need to better forecast and predict and to manage stocks,” Moss said.

Moss works out of the Auke Bay lab in Juneau and will soon be heading to Washington, D.C., to serve an interim position for one of the top administrative jobs in the National Marine Fisheries Services division of NOAA.

“My D.C. opportunity is an amazing opportunity for me to be chief of staff for the head scientists for all of NMFS,” Moss said.

He will be in the position for three months, covering for an administrator who is on maternity leave.

Moss’ specialty is salmon. After starting his career studying prehistoric algae, he went to the University of Washington to follow his passion.

“My passion, and what I originally came to University of Washington school of fisheries to study, was Alaska salmon,” Moss said

His first big salmon project came in the early 2000s on a global ocean ecosystems dynamics study in the Gulf of Alaska that looked at salmon. This most recent progress will help add to the information developed from that survey and extend it to different commercially-fished species

After this year of collection the data will be analyzed and brought back to the communities interested in it.

“In a year or so we’re going to be sure to come back to communities and not just present our work at scientific communities but we’re going to come back to the communities and let them know what we’re learning and have some interactions with particularly the commercial fishing fleet because they tend to know a lot about what’s going on out there,” Moss said.


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