Ten more research surveys around the country have been cancelled by NMFS amid the ongoing covid-19 pandemic, including key groundfish trawl surveys in the Northeast and Pacific, the agency announced.
“These are difficult decisions for the agency as we strive to balance our need to maintain core mission responsibilities with the realities and impacts of the current health crisis,” according to a statement by NMFS officials.
“Since March, we have been rigorously analyzing various options for conducting surveys this year and are taking a survey-by-survey, risk-based approach. After much deliberation, we determined that we will not be able to move forward with these surveys while effectively minimizing risk and meeting core survey objectives.”
Off the East Coast, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center has cancelled its Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey, which has captured seasonal changes in the ocean environment over its 33-year history.
“Some seasons have been missed and the number of annual surveys has varied, and methods have been developed to bridge these data gaps,” according to NMFS.
The Northern Shrimp Survey, normally conducted on the 72-foot Gloria Michelle research vessel, is likewise off for 2020. The annual Gulf of Maine cruise has been monitoring the troubled shrimp fishery, which is still closed until 2021 because of biomass decline.
The Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey, key to assessing Northeast groundfish and other stock, has operated since 1963 but it’s off for this fall.
“A future bottom longline survey and new work on industry-based sources of data may help mitigate data gaps,” according to NMFS.
The agency’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center has called off its Summer/Fall Plankton Survey that covers the entire Gulf of Mexico continental shelf from Brownsville, Texas, to Key West, Fla.
“It is the only fishery independent survey available to measure the spawning capacity of the adult population of Gulf of Mexico king mackerel and an important supplemental survey for red snapper and several other reef fish,” agency officials said.
The Northwest Fisheries Science Center canceled three remaining surveys. The Groundfish Bottom Trawl Survey is the primary source of fishery-independent data for many West Coast stocks, and “the loss of the 2020 survey data could result in increased uncertainty in upcoming stock assessments,” the agency warns. “We will coordinate with the Pacific Fishery Management Council for any affected stock assessments and leverage the long time-series data to provide the best scientific information.”
The 2020 California Current Hake Ecology and Survey Methods Research Cruise was planned to prepare for the biennial joint U.S.-Canada 2021 acoustic trawl survey and help develop ecosystem modeling and management.
“Cancellation of this cruise postpones, until next year, the required acoustic system comparisons between the U.S. and the new Canadian survey vessels used for data collection,” according to NMFS. “We are developing contingencies to ensure the consistency of the Pacific hake time series.”
The California Current Ecosystem Survey by the Southwest Fisheries Science Center collects biomass information using active acoustic sampling and biosampling of coastal pelagic species in the California Current between the borders with Canada and Mexico. It's a fishery-independent source of data for Pacific sardine, Pacific mackerel, northern anchovy, Pacific jack mackerel, and market squid, and NMFS officials say they plan to resume the annual surveys next year.
“In the interim, we will work with the Pacific Fishery Management Council to mitigate the impacts from the loss of survey data this year” on sardine and mackerel management, the agency says.
In Hawaii, NMFS is calling off the annual Hawaiian monk seal and sea turtle field survey; the main Hawaiian Islands bottomfish survey; and the main Hawaiian Islands corals assessment and monitoring survey.