Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June 2013 Council Meeting Preview

Photo: Emily Muelstein
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will meet next week at the Crowne Plaza in Pensacola, Florida. The meeting is open to the public, but if you can’t make it you can listen in live from your computer.

The committee agenda and full Council agenda will help you figure out when the Council will be discussing the topics that you want to hear.

Public comment will be held Thursday, June 20th beginning at 1:00 pm. An informal question and answer session will be held Tuesday evening immediately after the Council adjourns (around 5:15).

The following is a brief description of some of the things the Council plans to address next week:

Red Snapper
·      Stock Assessment Results - A benchmark red snapper stock assessment was recently completed. The Council’s the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) reviewed the assessment results and increased the acceptable biological catch for three years. The Council will review the assessment and, based on the SSC recommendations will set quotas for 2013 and beyond.

Photo: Capt. Murphy
·      Allocation - The Council will revisit the allocation scoping document that considers changing the division of the red snapper annual catch limit between the commercial and recreational fishing sectors. Currently, 49% of red snapper is allocated to the recreational sector and 51% to the commercial sector.

·      Regional Management – The Council will review a public hearing draft of Amendment 39, which considers dividing the federal red snapper quota among states/regions, giving them more flexibility in choosing seasons and bag limits. Regional management would not necessarily result in more fishing days.

·      Red Snapper Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) Program - The Council will discuss Amendment 36, which will address potential modifications to the Red Snapper IFQ Program based on the 5-year review recently accepted by the Council.

Artificial Reef Habitat Protection
The Council will discuss an options paper that considers designating petroleum platforms and artificial reefs as Essential Fish Habitat. This article “Rig Removal – Essential Fish Habitat” explains some of the motivations and challenges associated with the actions being considered by the Council.
Photo: Mark Miller

Data Collection
·      Private Recreational Red Snapper Data – The Council will review a scoping document that considers different options, suggested by the Council's advisory panel for Private Recreational Data Collection, for improving private recreational red snapper fisheries data. 

·      Headboat Reporting Requirements-           
    The Council will take final action on a framework action that considers changing how frequently headboats are required to report their catch. 

Mackerels and Cobia
The Council will review recommendations from its advisory panel for Coastal Migratory Pelagics on Amendments 19 and 20. Amendment 19 addresses the recreational sale of king and Spanish mackerel, elimination of inactive commercial king mackerel permits, and income requirements for commercial fishing permits. Amendment 20 addresses trip limits, seasons, transit provisions, and annual catch limits and annual catch targets for cobia.

Photo: Capt. Murphy
The Council will review recommendations made by its Shrimp advisory panel shrimp and discuss a framework action that considers how to fund the Electronic Logbook Program.

Panel and Committee Selection
The Council will review resumes and select new members for the Coral and SEDAR NGO Advisory Panels, as well as the SEDAR workshop pool, Special Coral, and Special Mackerel Scientific and Statistical Committees.

If you can’t make it to the meeting, there are plenty of other ways to share your input with us. This quick video explains public involvement in fisheries management:

As always, if you have any questions please contact us.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

How Hard Can it Really be to Count Fish? - Fisheries Independent Data Collection

It’s simply impossible to accurately count each individual fish swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, but not for lack of desire. The size, depth, and diversity of the Gulf makes accounting for every single fish unmanageable using current technology.

The first article in this series, How Hard Can it Really be to Count Fish? describes how scientists use fisheries-dependent data collection to monitor fish populations by tracking harvest and fishing effort. While fisheries-dependent information is important for management and plays a role in stock assessments, it has its limitations. To use an analogy: you can’t estimate the amount of water in a well by simply looking in the bucket. Likewise, you can’t assess a fish stock by simply looking at what is being caught - you have to study the fish directly.

Fisheries-independent data collection does just that. State, federal, and university-based fisheries scientists directly sample fish populations in a variety of ways to collect information about the life history and abundance of each species.

Life history studies focus on the biology of a fish. The way a species survives and reproduces plays a major role in its ability to sustain a healthy population. Fisheries scientists use the following techniques to study the life history of fishes in the Gulf of Mexico:

Photo: Amy Piko

Otolith Analysis - An otolith is a bone found in the fish’s ear. Much like counting the rings of a tree trunk, the age of a fish can be determined by counting the rings on an otolith. This information, paired with information about the length of a fish, is used to determine the growth rates of fish and estimate the percent of fish at each age in a stock.

Photo: Karen Burns

Gonad Analysis - Gonads, or the reproductive organs of a fish, can be analyzed to determine the potential for spawning success. Reproductive information collected from gonads includes the age at

which a fish first spawns, the male to female ratio within a population, and the number of eggs produced by a female each year.

Photo: Emily Muelstein
Capture and Release - A couple different techniques are used to study the death rates, growth rates,
and movement of fish. Scientists catch fish, tag them, and ask anglers who recapture them to report information about location and size of the fish.

To determine whether a fish survives release they are either fitted with acoustic tags that monitor movement, or they are placed in underwater cages and revisited after a few days time.

In addition to life history information, fisheries-independent studies collect information on how many fish are in an area. The techniques used to study abundance all measure the amount of fish caught per unit of effort. When compared year after year, these studies can show trends in population size and location.

Photo: NOAA

Trawl Surveys - Researchers pull large nets behind a research vessel and observers are sometimes placed aboard shrimp vessels to monitor bycatch. These survey techniques are used mostly to estimate the amount of juvenile fish of a particular species that can potentially grow large enough for harvest (often red snapper).

Photo: FWRI

Traps - Baited fish traps are placed in different types of habitat (artificial structures, natural reefs, and sand bottom, among others) to compare which species are present at each type of location.

Photo: NOAA

Direct Observation- SCUBA Divers survey different areas and count fish.

Photo: FWRI

Video Surveys - Video cameras are placed in different habitats to record and measure the amount of
fish in the area, and to gather information about fish size.

Photo: Emily Muelstein

Hook and Line - Scientists also collect information about fish by fishing with standardized gear and sometimes using electric reels. This is an effective way to collect samples around structures that would interfere with nets and other types of sampling gear.

Photo: Kathy Hoak

Longlines - A longline is a very long fishing line with multiple hooks branching off the main line.
Longlines can be miles long and rigged with hundreds of hooks at a time. Longlines that fish vertically can be used around structure, but lines fished at the surface or along the bottom are intentionally set to avoid it.

Photo: NOAA

Plankton Tows - Bongo nets are used to collect small organisms drifting in the water. Tiny fish found in the plankton samples can indicate the number of young born each year, and scientists can estimate their potential to grow into adults that can later be harvested.

Fisheries science is so complex because the subject it studies is vast, difficult to access, and exists in an ever-changing environment. The wide variety of fisheries-independent and fisheries-dependent studies performed in the Gulf of Mexico provide us with snapshots of different aspects of the fishery. The conclusions drawn from each individual study have value on their own, but assessing a stock throughout the entire Gulf requires a combination of all of these studies in order to formulate a comprehensive understanding of what’s going on.

The final installment of How Hard Can it Really be to Count Fish?”
will describe how scientists combine the conclusions drawn from individual studies for use in a Stock Assessment, which gives fisheries managers the information they need on a stock’s status so they can make management decisions.