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Fishery Biology Program

The Fishery Biology Program is located at the Woods Hole Laboratory of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, the science arm of NOAA Fisheries in the Northeast. We are one of three programs in the Population Biology Branch of the Population and Ecosystems Monitoring and Analysis Division.

Our Mission

The mission of the Fishery Biology Program is to quantify fundamental demographic characteristics of marine fish and invertebrate populations. Those results are used in stock assessment analyses, in models designed to guide management decisions, and in related research. The Program focuses on basic biological processes (particularly growth and reproduction) which are essential to understanding the population dynamics of exploited stocks.

Our current approach is to:

  • Determine ages of individual fish and shellfish from collected samples
  • Conduct research and develop information relative to fish and shellfish growth, maturation, and reproduction
  • Validate ageing methods and develop and improve age determination and processing methods
  • Measure precision and accuracy of age readers regularly, to maintain consistency of age determinations
  • Support inter-agency ageing exchanges and ageing workshops
  • Support modeling of fish populations and management of healthy fisheries

The Fishery Biology Program ages about 55-90,000 fish per year. These samples mainly come from three sources: scientific surveys, commercial landings, and discards. Scientific surveys are conducted on NOAA’s research vessels four times each year, and samples from these ships are used to obtain unbiased estimates of the growth, maturity, and age composition of fish populations. Commercially caught fish, landed at fishing ports along the coast, are sampled after they are unloaded from fishing vessels. ‘Discards’ are fish captured aboard fishing vessels but not brought to market; these are sampled at sea by fisheries observers. These latter two sources are used to estimate the age composition of fish removed from the populations.

We age 17 species (25 stocks) of fish and shellfish from samples collected during research vessel surveys and 14 species (21 stocks) from the commercial fishery. The figure below gives an example of the number of samples aged for each species in 2005-2006.

number of samples aged

Program History

The group was established in 1965 as the Age and Growth Unit. The Unit was initially responsible for performing routine age determinations for haddock, Melanogrammus aeglefinus, and yellowtail flounder, Limanda ferruginea, from the waters of the northwest Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the United States. During this time, and through the 1970s, validation studies were carried out, new sample processing and ageing techniques were developed, and many other species were added to the list. The Age and Growth Unit gradually evolved into a group that studies not only fish growth, but also basic biology of fish and shellfish. In 1978, the Unit's name was changed to the Fishery Biology Investigation and then Program in 1998 to reflect the changes in its responsibilities and the Center's organization; however, we are still often referred to as "Age and Growth".

Current Staff

Staff Photo 2016

Pictured, from left to right:

Name Position
Liz O'NeillStatistical Assistant
Sandy SutherlandFishery Biologist
Christine KircunContract Age Processor
Nina ShepherdBiological Science Laboratory Technician (Fisheries)
Eric RobillardSupervisory Research Fishery Biologist
Blanche JacksonBiological Science Laboratory Technician (Fisheries)
Sarah EmeryBiological Science Laboratory Technician (Fisheries)
Josh DaytonBiological Science Laboratory Technician (Fisheries)
Jill PriceContract Age Processor
Nicole CalabreseContract Age Processor
Katie RogersContract Age Processor
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