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a monkfish A monkfish. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries
brief description Man holding a monkfish. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC

June 6, 2016
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

2016-2017 Monkfish Research Set-Aside Awards Announced

NOAA Fisheries is pleased to announce, in coordination with the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, the selection of two cooperative research proposals submitted to the 2016/2017 Monkfish Research Set Aside (RSA) Program.

Overall, five researchers from four different institutions have been awarded grants to investigate monkfish biology to help improve the stock assessment for one of the Greater Atlantic Region’s highest valued commercial finfish. The researchers will work on two projects involving dozens of commercial fishing vessels, supported by awards valued at approximately $3.77 million.

Both grant recipients propose to build on previous research in an effort to identify monkfish stock structure through genetic studies and to estimate growth and movement of juvenile monkfish. These projects address the monkfish RSA program goals for stock structure/stock identification and implications for stock assessment and fisheries management.

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School of Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) will tag juvenile monkfish to improve monkfish growth estimates, a critical parameter for the model used in the monkfish stock assessment. A previous monkfish research set-aside grant to this group found that the current approach of estimating monkfish growth is not valid, exposing a gap in the monkfish stock assessment. This two-year project proposes to fill this gap for juvenile monkfish through this tagging study.

Researchers will collaborate with commercial gillnet fishermen to tag and release over 2,500 juvenile monkfish inadvertently caught during regular fishing operations. Tagging will be conducted at different times of the year in inshore and offshore southern New England and Gulf of Maine waters.

Tagged fish that are subsequently caught and returned will allow researchers to estimate growth, track movement patterns of juvenile monkfish, and examine their mixing rates between the southern and northern management areas. Gillnet fishermen are encouraged to be on the lookout for tagged juvenile monkfish to help this study succeed.

Researchers at Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, in cooperation with New York University School of Medicine, will conduct a two-year study of the fine-scale genetic population structure of monkfish. The monkfish (Lophius americanus) fishery has been assessed and managed as two distinct units, a northern and southern stock, since the inception of the monkfish fishery management plan in 1999. The boundary between the two management units is currently Georges Bank, although there is limited biological data supporting this division.

The new study will use microsatellite DNA analysis to determine if monkfish constitute a single or multiple stocks over their coast-wide distribution from Newfoundland to North Carolina, define their spatial boundaries, and determine if there is migrational mixing between management areas. The project will build on a 2013 study funded through the monkfish RSA program that found monkfish may constitute two or maybe three genetic stocks across their distribution, but these stocks do not correspond to the stock delineation currently used in their management. This additional research will gauge the spatial and temporal stability of these initial findings.

Project researchers will also provide a model to accurately determine and compare the biological characteristics of individual stocks, such as age and growth, longevity, reproduction, and natural mortality. The investigators have formed an advisory committee of stock assessment scientists, fisherman, and resource managers to inform the research effort and to help integrate project results into management and monkfish stock assessment activities, as appropriate.

The New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils primarily manage the monkfish fishery by limiting the number of days that the fleet can spend targeting this species. Under the Monkfish RSA program, 500 days-at-sea are “set aside” annually by the councils and then awarded through a federal grant competition to projects that address monkfish research priorities.

No Federal funds are provided for research under this program, nor does NOAA Fisheries retain or use funds derived from the sale of research set-aside days-at-sea. Rather, proceeds from the sale of monkfish harvested on RSA days pays for the research and compensates participating vessels. NOAA Fisheries manages the competition, and oversees research activities and monitors the use of RSA days-at-sea.

In addition to monkfish, there are active RSA programs for Atlantic sea scallop and Atlantic herring. RSA programs support applied research that responds to priorities established by the regional fishery management councils, and are designed to inform resource management decisions and improve stock assessments.

For more information about research funded through the region’s RSA programs, please visit the Northeast Cooperative Research RSA Program site or contact Ryan Silva.

2016-2017 Monkfish Research Set-Aside Projects

Award Number Project Organization Principal Investigators R=research
C=compensation fishing
T=total budget
DAS= Days-at-Sea
16NMF4540108 Estimating the Growth and Movement of Monkfish University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth/School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) Dr. Steve Cadrin and Crista Bank (SMAST) R-$270,000

2016-250 DAS
2017-200 DAS

16NMF4540109 Fine Scale Genetic Population Structure of Monkfish Cornell University Cooperative Extension (CCE) Emerson Hasbrouck (CCE) and Isaac Wirgin (New York University, School of Medicine) R-$321,883.10

2016-250 DAS
2017-300 DAS

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