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NOAA scientists kick off surveys to collect data vital to success of Alaska’s fisheries


Thirty scientists from NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center are spending the next few months out on the vast Bering Sea collecting data vitally important to the sustainability of Alaska’s economically important fisheries.

The researchers are participating in annual and biennial bottom trawl surveys doing stock assessments of species such as walleye pollock, Pacific cod, yellowfin sole, northern rock sole, red king crab, and snow and Tanner crabs. They’ll be collecting information on relative abundance, size, and age compositions for groundfish and crab species.

Commercial fishermen depend upon data from these surveys to determine the maximum amount they can catch of each species without overfishing—which helps to ensure the viability of these fisheries for future generations of fishers.

The result of these surveys—some with a 40-year history—is that Alaska fisheries are known worldwide for being healthy, sustainable, and among the best managed on the planet. Alaska’s federally-managed fisheries bring in billions of dollars annually, and support thousands of jobs.

Each year, scientists from the NOAA science center’s RACE (Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering) division charter fishing vessels for the survey. This year, six scientists are assigned to each of five vessels for the surveys.

The surveys began last week, when 12 scientists boarded the F/V Aldebaran and F/V Alaska Knight for one of the most important surveys: the annual survey of groundfish and crab that inhabit the continental shelf of the eastern Bering Sea. During the 69-day journey, the researchers will collect data from established stations in the Bering Sea that extend from inner Bristol Bay westward and north to the shelf edge (green area on map). 

Eighteen scientists will leave this week from Dutch Harbor aboard three separate fishing vessels chartered for this year’s surveys, with six researchers each vessel.

Scientists aboard the F/V Vesteraalen will spend 55 days surveying the eastern Bering Sea upper continental slope. This biennial survey covers the upper continental slope including Bering, Pribilof, Zhemchug, Pervenents, and Navarin canyons (red area on map).

Researchers will spend 72 days aboard the F/V Sea Storm and the F/V Ocean Explorer conducting a biennial groundfish survey of the Aleutian Islands, from the Fox Islands region adjacent to Akutan Island west to Stalemate Bank (purple area on map).

These bottom trawl surveys form the cornerstone for many of the stock assessment and ecosystem forecast models used for groundfish and crab harvest advice in Alaska. The combined area represented by the crab and groundfish trawl surveys, about 880,600 square kilometers or 340,000 square miles, is greater than the area of Texas.

Each survey covers a wide range of species—between 135 and 185 species of fish and 389 and 450 invertebrate species.

These surveys are invaluable tools for observing and documenting effects of climate change on the benthic community, and provide a unique foundation to systematically judge the changes in the Arctic and subarctic waters off Alaska. The loss of sea ice in the northern parts of the survey region is expected to exert a major influence on the structure and function of the ecosystems and the status of managed fish, crab, and other marine species.

Additional biological, habitat, oceanographic, and acoustic information collected during each survey is used to improve our understanding of life history of the fish and crab species and the ecological and environmental factors affecting their distribution and abundance.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook , Twitter and our other social media channels. To learn more about NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, visit alaskafisheries.noaa.gov or www.afsc.noaa.gov.

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