Study Fleet: Gear Parameter Study
The transition to sector fishing from Days at Sea has had wide effects on the commercial fishing fleet. In the Days at Sea system, fishing vessel effort was limited by trip limits, and consequently led to high discard rates, as well as the discarding of legal sized fish. The incentive was to catch as much as you can, as quick as you can.
Under the NE Sector Program, fishing vessels have more flexibility as to how much fish they can land per trip, but are limited by their discard rates. This shift in management corresponds to NMFS taking a broader, more ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. The incentive for vessels is now to catch as much legal fish as possible, with the least amount of discards.
Naturally, vessels are modifying their gear to obtain the best results, and feel, in some instances, that they catch significantly fewer discards than the discard rate assigned to their sector. In order to track these gears, and quantify their catch-ability, Study Fleet is developing new methods for describing gear.
When a vessel begins with the program, they will take time to record each of their gears and its respective characteristics in their on board computer.
During regular fishing, they select the gear with which they are fishing, and enter the kept and discard species weights for each particular tow. At the end of the trip, the haul-level catch data is combined with the corresponding gear descriptions and transmitted to Study Fleets databases in Woods Hole, MA.
Here, Study Fleet analysts have near real time access to a vessels current gear configurations and the levels of bycatch they are encountering.
This information may help guide recommendations as to how to further reduce bycatch by altering certain gear characteristics, and provides much more detail than just the standard VTR gear code.
The Study Fleet’s ultimate goal in regards to gear description is to track which particular gear parameters have the most impact on a standard gear configuration and potentially enabling a vessels self reported data to help reduce theirs, or their sectors assumed discard rate.