An effort to map changing surf clam habitat off the East Coast is among four new research projects to be funded in 2023 with $235,000 from the non-profit Science Center for Marine Fisheries (SCEMFIS).

SCEMFIS approved the funding at annual fall meeting, doling out an overall $109,000 increase in funding from the $126,000 the center approved for the 2022 funding year.

Projects are chosen for funding by members of the Center's Industry Advisory Board, and with an eye to addressing the highest priorities in finfish and shellfish science. This year's projects research new methods to chart the habitat overlap between ocean quahogs and surfclams; test better ways to analyze the diets of important predator species in the Gulf of Mexico; examine the financial impact of wind farm development on Northeast fisheries; and design a new, experimental clam dredge.

Clam resource distribution, a GIS summary: As the waters off the U.S. coast continue to warm, surf clams continue to move into deeper, formerly colder waters, causing an overlap in habitat with ocean quahogs, creating a problem for fishermen and regulators as two formerly separate fisheries begin to overlap.

This project funded at $19,719 and led by professor Roger Mann at the Virginia Institute for Marine Science, will develop GIS information charting this overlap using historical survey and fishing data, use temperature data to determine the influence of climate change over time, and use these data sets to project future surf clam migration.

Meta-barcoding gut contents of predatory fish in coastal Louisiana: There is contradictory information available on the degree to which predator species in the Gulf of Mexico rely on various forage fish species, particularly Gulf menhaden.

Current methods, which rely on analyzing stomach contents, have the potential to misidentify diets; techniques such as DNA sequencing is more likely to produce an accurate result. This $60,428 study, led by professors Justine Whitaker and Chris Bonvillain of Nicholls State University, will collect DNA samples from selected stomach contents from Gulf fish, and analyze these DNA samples to correctly catalog the contents of the diets of these fish.

Assessing stranded capital and capital devaluation in the seafood industry due to offshore wind energy development: Large-scale offshore wind power development is anticipated to negatively impact the commercial fishing industry. New wind farms in the Northeast will reduce fishable area and landings, impacting both upstream and downstream businesses in the seafood economy.

This has the potential to devalue the physical capital used in seafood production, such as fishing vessels and shoreside processing infrastructure, which is often highly specialized and may have limited alternative uses if their longtime users are displaced.

This $44,856 project, led by professor Andrew Scheld at the Virginia Institute for Marine Science, will assess the potential for stranded capital and capital devaluation in the seafood industry by conducting a literature review, collecting information from a sample of seafood businesses to evaluate asset risk exposure, and developing models to assess exposure of vessel capital.

A clam dredge with an integrated pump: One of the fundamental challenges in operating a hydraulic clam dredge is that the deeper the dredge goes, the worse it will perform, due to the distance between the dredge on the sea floor and the dredge pump on the vessel.

This $110,000 project, led by professor Roger Mann of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, will make a modified dredge design with the dredge pump on the dredge itself, and run comparison tests with a regular dredge to measure potential improvements.

SCEMFIS is part of the National Science Foundation's Industry-University Cooperative Research Centers program, and brings together researchers and academics in marine science with members of the fishing industry to identify and fund commercially important fisheries research.

Using those academic and fisheries resources, the center seeks to address urgent scientific problems limiting sustainable fisheries. SCEMFIS develops methods, analytical and survey tools, datasets, and analytical approaches to improve sustainability of fisheries and reduce uncertainty in biomass estimates.

SCEMFIS university partners, University of Southern Mississippi (the lead institution), and Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, are the academic sites.

Collaborating scientists who provide specific expertise in finfish, shellfish, and marine mammal research, come from a wide range of academic institutions including Old Dominion University, Rutgers University, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, University of Maryland, and University of Rhode Island.


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