SeafoodSource: NOAA shakes up AK fishery survey plans

NOAA survey changes are part of a broader effort to "reprioritize its survey portfolio and make it more efficient, flexible, and cost-effective."

by | June 22, 2024

Climate change now requires NOAA to adapt its long-running methodologies.

By Nathan Strout, SeafoodSource
June 21, 2024

NOAA Fisheries is shaking up its plans for Alaska fisheries surveys as part of a broader effort to reprioritize its survey portfolio and make it more efficient, flexible, and cost-effective.

“Alaska marine ecosystems are changing, and our science has to change with them,” Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) Director Robert Foy said of the multi-year effort to redesign and modernize the agency’s surveys.

Changes include the development of a new Bering Sea survey, the suspension of the Alaska Longline Survey in 2024, and the shortening of three other surveys.

The new annual bottom-trawl survey of the Bering Sea will replace the annual Eastern Bering Sea shelf survey, portions of the eastern Bering Sea slope survey conducted from 2000 to 2016, and the annual Northern Bering Sea bottom-trawl survey.

“We will be using a stratified-random sampling design, rather than a systematic grid with fixed stations,” AFSC Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering Division Director Lyle Britt said. “The advantage of the new approach is that we can be more nimble in our survey implementation. We will be able to respond more quickly to changes in the marine environment without jeopardizing data quality.”

NOAA Fisheries has long relied on conducting surveys with limited variation to create data that can be compared over time to measure changes. However, climate change now requires the agency to adapt its long-running methodologies.

“We have been conducting some Alaska surveys in the same areas, using the same survey equipment, for decades. As a result, we have been able to reliably track changes in species abundance for key commercial fish and shellfish species because we had comparative data collected over the years. However, with warmer ocean temperatures, species may not be found in the same areas or gather to spawn at the same time that they did historically,” Britt said.

The Alaska Longline Survey is primarily used to measure sablefish populations, but with the value of sablefish dropping and fishermen catching significantly less than the acceptable biological catch, the agency deemed that skipping the survey this year was low-risk.

“In the long term, our broader survey modernization efforts – including the use of new technologies and survey methods – will lead to greater efficiency, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness,” the agency said. “This will ensure that NOAA Fisheries can continue to provide fisheries, ecosystem, and climate data to support adaptive fisheries management.”

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Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries

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About Laine

Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She also has worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and on Cape Cod.

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