Professor Kevin Stokesbury Emphasizes Cooperative Research, New Sampling Techniques, and Technology as Path to Improving Fishery Outlook
Professor and Researcher Dr. Kevin Stokesbury of UMass Dartmouth's School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) testified this week before the Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Listening Session hosted by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Mark Begich of Alaska and Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard. Senator Ed Markey, Congressman Bill Keating, and Congressman John Tierney were also part of the panel.
During his testimony, Dr. Stokesbury illustrated the benefit of cooperative research that has improved the "best available science" at a reduced cost.
"For the near future we will need to do more for less," noted Stokesbury speaking about the need for research efforts that could improve the outlook of the fishing industry, while at the same time saving money. "We do not need to settle for the present data-poor situations, and we achieve far more with less, cooperatively."
Dr. Stokesbury provided three examples of past and present cooperative research that has improved fishing stock assessment and saved hundreds of millions of dollars for the fishing industry.
In 1998 the scallop fishery was facing severe restrictions. Fishermen were desperate for access into the large closed areas of Georges Bank. The fishing industry asked SMAST to help by providing accurate estimates of scallop populations in these areas. Working together and avoiding preconceived notions, they were able to better estimate the numbers of animals at different sizes and where they were located. Due in major part to this effort, the Atlantic sea scallop stock has rebuilt to about $455 million, annually. New Bedford has been the number one fishing port by value in the US for the last 13 years, due largely to scallop landings.
SMAST's Yellowtail Flounder Bycatch Avoidance Program addressed the previous yellowtail flounder bycatch closures of prime scallop grounds, which resulted in the losses of $100 million in potential harvest. Focusing on the Nantucket Lightship harvest area in 2010, Dr. Cate O'Keefe's created this program as part of her PhD dissertation. Vessels shared near real-time location information about bycatch amounts during fishing activities. Bycatch rates significantly declined and the fleet harvested the scallop allocation, worth $40 million, while catching only 32% of the Yellowtail bycatch limit. The program has now expanded to include all of Georges Bank and most of the scallop fleet participates.
Dr. Stokesbury also discussed the River Herring Bycatch Avoidance Program for the Atlantic herring and mackerel fisheries. Dr. David Bethoney created this program as part of his PhD dissertation. The project estimated the amount and location of river herring bycatch occurring on each fishing trip and circulated the information in near-real time back to the fishermen. This increased the information on these fish at-sea, from a scale of 100 nautical miles aggregated over 5 years to 10s of nautical miles over several days. It enabled fishermen to avoid "hot-spots" thereby reducing River herring bycatch. Both the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Councils have incorporated this program into their fisheries management plans.
At the close of his testimony, Dr. Stokesbury announced SMAST's next experimental trip to Georges Bank using new technology to apply new sampling techniques to estimate yellowtail flounder and other groundfish abundance. A team of scientists from SMAST, accompanied by local fishermen, set sail this week for a 7-10 day exploration to develop a new groundfish survey that combines traditional fishermen's knowledge with advanced video observations designed for nets and state-of-the art benthic imagery and sonar. The objective is to estimate the abundance, spatial distribution, size structure, and length-weight relationship of the Georges Bank yellowtail flounder stock on the southern flank of Georges Bank. The team will also estimate these parameters for cod, haddock, monkfish, skate and other groundfish. This will be a non-intrusive ecosystem-based sampling effort.
The focus at SMAST is on interdisciplinary basic-to-applied marine sciences and the development of related innovative technologies. In addition to the scholarly marine science and technology communities, the SMAST mission also emphasizes interaction with regional industry, and government and non-governmental agencies on compelling regional marine-related issues and technological development.