National Fisherman

Dr. Kevin Stokesbury posed a challenge: How do you count fish in the ocean without killing them, in particular yellowtail flounder?

It's an important question because fishermen simply do not trust NOAA's survey methods. Many believe fish are severely undercounted because the NOAA researchers on the ship Bigelow don't seem to know what they are doing when they go fishing. It's killing the industry.

So if the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is going to dig in its heels the way it once did about scallops, Stokesbury appears to be on the brink of another survey breakthrough.

Last month, he and others at the UMass School of Marine Science and Technology spent four days at sea testing a prototype of a fish counter that can let them all live through the process.

SMAST starts these projects on a shoestring. Last time, with scallops, Stokesbury designed a simple, inexpensive pyramid made of pipes, hung a camera and some lights on it, and dropped it to the sea floor again and again to literally hand-count the scallops (which turned out to be abundant).

NOAA was compelled to act and scalloping boomed, which didn't cause its scientists to begin any outreach to scientists elsewhere, much less those who are working together with actual fishermen, God forbid. What could they know?

So once again Stokesbury and his team set out to build something that didn't used to exist: a net with an escape hatch that makes all the fish pass by a camera, where every one can be identified and recorded.

They cut the bottom out of a six-foot-diameter plastic water tank from their labs. They mounted a video camera with a light. They mounted it to the edge of the plastic tank, which by now is a cylinder.

They put the cylinder into a trawl net, the cod end of which could be either open or closed. They dropped the net to the ocean floor and towed it. Then they watched the video and counted the fish passing through.

Stokesbury demonstrated all of this on Wednesday at a small seminar with about 25 people from the university and the fishing industry.

A couple of things became apparent. This could work. It has to work. Everyone there said so. "We have to do this," said Richard Canastra of the BASE seafood auction.

Read the full story at the New Bedford Standard Times>>

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