Survey To Be
Conducted Aboard Two
NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center
N E W S
Woods Hole, Mass. -- NOAA Fisheries and commercial fishermen are organizing an ambitious scientific survey in the ocean off the northeastern U.S. to improve information about the distribution, size, and condition of the monkfish population. The survey will take samples at about 450 locations and begin in late February.
Much of the present knowledge about monkfish is based on information gathered by routine scientific surveys of the continental shelf, and from landings and industry reports. The survey data are good indicators of change in stocks over time. "But," says Dr. Steven Murawski, "the regular survey doesn't provide precise information for monkfish, or most species, in part because of the differences in how species respond to the survey trawl." Murawski is leading the cooperative survey effort for NOAA Fisheries' Northeast Fisheries Science Center.
The cooperative survey is designed to use gear and towing speeds more appropriate for catching monkfish, under conditions that will provide data for the rigorous scientific process that develops stock assessments. The work will be conducted aboard two chartered, specially-outfitted commercial monkfish trawlers. The crew will include commercial fishermen, and scientists and technicians from NOAA Fisheries, the State of Massachusetts, and Rutgers University.
"The cooperative survey is exciting to the fishing community," said Kathy Downey, a fish processor and member of the Monkfish Defense Fund in New Bedford who also helped to organize the collaborative project. "It has been our perception that the existing surveys were inadequate and inappropriate in helping all of us, scientists and industry alike, get a handle on the monkfish stock. The collaborative effort with the government is a commitment from both industry and scientists, to improve the quality of the monkfish stock assessment," she said.
Monkfish (also called goosefish or angler fish) are landed from Cape Hatteras to Maine. The fishery's most recent expansion began in 1987, when landings tripled from about 5.5 million to more than 15 million pounds for the year, peaking at more than 60 million pounds by 1997. In 1999, landings were about 55 million pounds, worth nearly $47 million. Studies indicate that the overall monkfish population size decreased as the fishery expanded, and that the average and maximum sizes of individual monkfish have also been declining steadily.
"We've had very positive results with surveys designed to use both fishermen and scientists," said Murawski. "I expect we will get a better handle on the monkfish stock, and provide improved information for those trying to manage the fishery," he said.
It will take about 90 sea days to complete the work. Approximately 450 survey sites, or "stations," will be sampled, both on the continental shelf and in deeper waters at the shelf break. The sites were chosen by combining locations where industry members' know that monkfish occur, and locations where existing scientific data show that monkfish are distributed.
The project is expected to cost about $520,000. The cost includes ship charter time, equipment, and data processing for the resulting samples. Regional fishery biologists will use data from these surveys in reassessing the monkfish population.
This work follows up on a pilot survey conducted by industry and NOAA Fisheries in October aboard the F/V Warrior, owned by Sigurd Johannessen of New Bedford. For that work, the crew (four fishermen and five scientists) 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.