Using underwater video cameras developed by UMass Dartmouth Professor Kevin Stokesbury and members of his Marine Fisheries Field Research Group at SMAST, a triad of early-career scientists recently sailed across the U.S. and abroad to capture high-resolution imagery of benthic environments. The goal is to help regulators improve management strategies for specific fish species.
Kyle Cassidy, Craig Lego, and Amber Lisi – in collaboration with fisheries organizations as well as fishermen – conducted individual research cruises in Argentina, Canada, and the U.S. “The research involved using a pyramid equipped with the high-resolution video cameras and lights and lowering the pyramid at predetermined locations in the ocean,” explained Cassidy.
Snapshots taken of the benthic environments offer independent data about distribution, abundance, and size of the fisheries species. The technique, known as the drop-camera method, has proven effective in providing accurate estimates of the number of a particular species in surveyed areas, and aids fisheries stakeholders in better protecting and sustaining fisheries.
Patagonian scallop study
The Patagonian scallop fishery operates off the coast of Argentina and serves as food supply for North American, Asian, and European markets. Stakeholders in Patagonian scallop fishery have a desire for more sophisticated research related to best management practices. In 2014, a collaboration between SMAST and Clearwater Seafoods began.
Cassidy, who earned his MS in Marine Science and Technology at UMass Dartmouth, spent three weeks in Argentina where he conducted a survey on the Patagonian scallop in collaboration with Clearwater Fisheries and INIDEP (Argentina’s governmental fisheries research institute). The main goal was to prove the effectiveness of a drop camera video survey on their particular species of the scallop. Another aim was to demonstrate how optical surveys can provide valuable information to fisheries science and stock assessments.
“During the cruise, we were able to apply the techniques that have proven to be effective on various species in the U.S. and Canada to a new area with a species of scallop that we had not previously encountered,” he said. “By pursuing a more accurate assessment of the fishery, we are hoping to provide useful data to various fishing companies and organizations who can use this information to cooperatively make decisions about the future of Patagonian scallop.”
Sea cucumber study
Sea cucumber, a marine invertebrate that lives on the seafloor, is enjoyed as a delicacy and used for medicinal purposes in Asia. Sea cucumber is one of Australia’s oldest fisheries, and fisheries in Alaska send sea cucumbers to China. It is now gaining broader popularity.
Amber Lisi, who earned her MS in Marine Biology from UMassD in 2017 and now works as a Laboratory Technician for the Marine Fisheries Field Research Group, completed a three-day journey to Nova Scotia. Lisi is collaborating with Dr. Michael Stokesbury and graduate student Danni Harper at Acadia University in Nova Scotia on the sea cucumber study.
“The study employs methods and equipment developed here at SMAST,” Lisi said. “Essentially Harper visited the lab at SMAST to learn about our sampling methods using the drop camera pyramid and data processing methods involving the digitizing of images to see if she could use similar methods to answer her research questions.” Using the same sampling method and a similar version of the pyramid, Dr. Michael Stokesbury and his lab team have been able to suit the needs of Harper’s study.
“This is intended to provide information on the current state of Nova Scotia’s Atlantic sea cucumber population and enable comparisons to be made over time to understand impacts of the developing fishery there,” said Lisi.
U.S. Atlantic sea scallop study
Atlantic sea scallop is known as one of the most valuable fisheries in the U.S. And according to NOAA, U.S.-wild caught Atlantic sea scallops are an ideal seafood choice given that it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.
Craig Lego, who is currently pursuing his master’s degree in marine science at SMAST, is conducting an ongoing U.S. Atlantic sea scallop study in the Nantucket Lightship area where he is collaborating with fishermen to examine the dynamics between sea scallops and sea stars.
“Sea stars and sea scallops have a well-documented predator-prey relationship where sea stars consume sea scallops,” Lego said. The data obtained through the survey will help identify distributions of both organisms and provide accurate estimates of abundance and densities. “This helps management because the predator-prey relationship directly affects natural mortality rates of sea scallops.”
Lego also said working with fishermen enhances the research and connects science to fisheries. “One of the benefits of working with fishermen is that we learn how they view the ocean and they provide additional valuable information when conducting our surveys,” he said.
“All of the data we retrieve from our studies goes to the federal government, fisheries managers, and management councils to assist in setting catch limits and quota allocations.”