Offshore Survey Explores
Use of Commercial Vessels
To Gather Monkfish Data
NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center
N E W SWoods Hole, Mass. -- Commercial fishermen and government scientists last week conducted a six-day collaborative survey for monkfish on the edge of the continental shelf. The deep-water survey aboard F/V Warrior was designed to study the feasibility of using commercial vessels to gather data that could improve monkfish stock assessments.
"The survey was an important step in developing a partnership between industry and scientists who study the resource," said Kathy Downey, a fish processor and member of the Monkfish Defense Fund in New Bedford who helped to organize the collaborative project.
Monkfish (also called goosefish or angler fish) are landed in the US from Cape Hatteras to Maine. The monkfish fishery expanded in the mid- to late- 1970s and is now a $30 million industry. In recent years, NMFS surveys show the monkfish stock has been declining in abundance. The average and maximum sizes of monkfish caught in government surveys have also been declining steadily.
In last week's collaborative survey out of New Bedford, a crew of five scientists and four fishermen aboard the F/V Warrior, owned by Sigurd Johannessen of New Bedford, sampled 35 sites in water as deep as 2,000 feet. The crew gathered vertebrae from about 400 individual monkfish that will be used to study growth rates.
"It was a successful experiment," said Dr. Anne Richards, a NMFS biologist who organized the scientific aspects of the survey. "We were able gather scientifically useful information in deep water aboard a commercial vessel," Richards said.
Using its own fishery-independent surveys, NMFS has been gathering data about monkfish for decades. Those surveys, however, are not specifically designed for finding monkfish and they are not conducted in deep water.
"Over the years our bottom trawl surveys have provided information about monkfish," Richards said. "The question was, could surveys specific for monkfish provide additional data that could lead to a better understanding of the stocks – and it appears the answer is, ‘Yes'."
The collaborative survey last week covered a few stations surveyed by government's vessel, the R/V Albatross IV, and many additional sites not previously surveyed. The results should be useful for designing future cooperative surveys to estimate monkfish abundance more precisely and for better understanding the biology of the stock. The age and growth data, for instance, might answer the question of whether older fish move further offshore to live in deeper water.
The $40,000 survey was funded by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), in part with Marine Fisheries Initiative (MARFIN) funds. The F/V Warrior was captained by Tom Manley and crewed by Mario Vassal, Henrique Franco, and Paul Redanz, three NMFS scientists, one scientist from Massachusetts' Division of Marine Fisheries and one from Rutgers University.