Fleet-Based Monkfish Survey Underway -- February 28, 2001 2001/02/28 Monkfish Survey Underway

Joint NMFS/Industry Survey

Expected To Provide

Information about

Monkfish Population

Teri Frady
NOAA Fisheries
(508) 495-2239
Nils Stolpe
Monkfish Defense Fund
(215) 345-4790


NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center

N         E         W         S

New Bedford, Mass. The F/V Mary K (New Bedford) and the F/V Drake (Portland) are underway for the first part of a joint NOAA Fisheries-Industry resource survey for monkfish. NOAA Fisheries and commercial fishermen have been organizing the work since October to improve information about the distribution, size, and condition of the monkfish population.

"We've made a substantial investment of public resources in this project and expect to get a lot of useful information that will improve what we know about monkfish," said Dr. Steven Murawski, of NOAA Fisheries' Northeast Fisheries Science Center. Monkfish have accounted for 3 to 4 percent of the region's total value in fishery landings in recent years, but in 1999 accounted for between 24 and 50 percent of the value for fin fish landed in New Bedford, MA, Long Branch/Barnegat Light, Pt. Pleasant, NJ, and Portsmouth, NH.

A website with information about the survey and daily updates is available on the NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center website.

The F/V Mary K is owned by Patrick Kavanaugh and skippered by Mario Vasal. The F/V Drake is owned by Barbara Stevenson and skippered by Adrian Martin-Fisher. The vessels are two of the four that submitted competitive bids for the charter.

The survey will be conducted in three 12-day legs, with a final 5-day cruise to calibrate gear. The trawls will be outfitted with scientific instrumentation. The vessels plan to work approximately 420 survey stations, which were chosen using the typical random selection process and by polling fishermen about areas of importance.

A 30-minute tow will be made at each site. The boat's position, bottom temperature at the location, and bottom contact by the gear will be logged for each tow. All species caught will be weighed. More samples will be taken from some species, such as monkfish, to collect information important for age and growth studies.

Each cruise leg will be manned by five scientists and five fishermen. Science and technical staff will include fishery observers, and staff from the NOAA Fisheries Northeast Science Center in Woods Hole, the State of Massachusetts, and/or Rutgers University.

"The industry and the Monkfish Defense Fund wholeheartedly support this collaborative effort to develop a monkfish-specific database," said Kathy Downey of the Monkfish Defense Fund. "Scientists and industry alike have expressed concerns about the quality of information that fishery management decisions have been based upon," she said. "We anticipate that this survey will begin to scientifically fill voids in our knowledge of the monkfish resource."

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.

The cooperative survey is designed to use gear and towing speeds appropriate for catching monkfish, under conditions that will provide data for the rigorous scientific process that develops stock assessments.

The project is expected to cost about $520,000, using fishery disaster relief funds, and funds from NOAA Fisheries Marine Fisheries Initiative (MARFIN) grants program. The cost includes ship charter time (about $360,000), fishery observer costs, equipment for monitoring gear performance and bottom temperatures, 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.

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