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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Gulf Council Research and Monitoring Priorities 2015 - 2019

The science that informs fishery management is incredibly complicated, and the management decisions that are made using that science can be controversial. While the members of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council are knowledgeable about specific aspects of the harvest, conservation, or business of Gulf fisheries, they’re not always scientists - but they don’t have to be. The Council relies on the Southeast Fisheries Science Center to assess fish stocks and provide them with the science necessary to make informed management decisions.

FWRI deploys a video array
Every five years the National Marine Fisheries Service asks the regional fishery management Councils for a “wish-list’ identifying their fishery monitoring and research priorities. The Southeast Fisheries Science Center, which is responsible for the Gulf, Caribbean, and South Atlantic Councils, incorporates the priorities of each Council into its own research plan.

Below you’ll find a summary of the Gulf Council’s highest priority items for 2015 - 2019.  The full document provides a much more comprehensive list of research and monitoring priorities.

The research and monitoring priorities are broken into three categories. The first one focuses on broad, multi-purpose research programs that aim to collect data for a variety of species over a long period of time. The Council has asked for enhanced:

Size data is collected for tag and recapture study
Fisheries-Independent Sampling
Specifically, more video and trawl surveys should be conducted in the eastern Gulf. Vertical, bottom long-line, visual, and larval studies should be conducted to better understand the abundance of various sizes and ages of fish. This will help determine the number of young fish that could become reproductive and harvestable adults.

Fisheries-dependent sampling
Existing recreational and commercial data collection programs should continue to achieve better coverage to collect data on abundance, size and species of fish landed. Electronic data collection systems should be developed for the charter for-hire vessels to improve timeliness and accuracy of reporting.

Social and economic monitoring
A study of human attitudes, behavior, and reliance on marine fisheries should be developed to monitor changes in communities over time, particularly due to changes in recreational and 
commercial fishing regulations.

Hooks ready for longline survey
Estimations of bycatch and discards

Observer coverage and data collection on bycatch from commercial shrimp trawlers, longliners, and vertical line fisheries should be enhanced. Continued development of technologies including cameras, phones, and tablets should be utilized to collect estimations of total discards and discard mortality rates in all sectors.

The next category of research priorities is based on individual species managed by the Gulf Council. The recommendations in this section are based on gaps in data that were identified in recent stock assessments and through the development of management plans. The highest priority items focus on species that are currently in rebuilding plans - research priorities for numerous other species are included in the full document.

Diver performs visual survey
      Red snapper – More efforts should be directed toward determining the effects of the oil spill; the influence of artificial reef structures on the population and spatial distribution across the Gulf; and the ecological effects of population expansion specifically, as it relates to interactions with other species.

Greater amberjack – More age and growth studies should be performed to determine size at age, and work should continue to verify the size of females at reproductive maturity.

Gray triggerfish – Additional studies on the aging, catchability of dominate males during the spawning season, and movement of triggerfish should be conducted.

Next, the Council focuses on economic and socio-cultural research and monitoring needs. Future fishery management challenges will increasingly pertain to the social environment, so a better understanding of the human dimension of fisheries is necessary.

1. Effects of proposed management changes on recreational and commercial fishingEvaluations of the economic benefits, participation rates, and behavior of all modes of recreational and commercial fishing should be performed to enhance understanding of the social implications of management changes including size limits, bag limits, quotas, seasons, and marine reserves.

2. Development of regional economic modelsData should be gathered and tools should be developed to assess the regional economic effects of regulations or environmental events such as hurricanes and red tides.

The role of the Gulf Council in the research and monitoring side of fisheries management is often confused. The Council isn’t responsible for collecting or interpreting fisheries data, nor does the Council assess the health and size of fish stocks. Rather, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Southeast Fisheries Science Center perform and report the science to the Gulf Council for use in management decisions. The Council simply takes an advisory role in directing the scientists on where to focus their research. As you can see, the Gulf Council has identified some very important research and monitoring needs that will help ensure the science fits the needs of the decision makers to better inform fisheries management decisions.