Federal fisheries officials have cancelled five or six large-scale research surveys in federal waters off Alaska in 2020 in an effort to protect their crews and communities associated with the surveys from the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
NOAA Fisheries officials said on May 22 that it was a difficult decision to make, while balancing their core mission and the realities and impacts of the pandemic.
The cancelations include the Aleutian Islands bottom trawl survey, the Eastern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey, the northern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey, the Bering Sea Pollock acoustics survey and the fall ecosystem survey.
The annual Alaska longline survey will take place as planned.
NOAA Fisheries said that after two months of careful planning and rigorous analysis of various options for conducting the surveys this year they concluded there was no way to move forward with a survey plan that would effectively minimize risk to staff, crew and associated communities.
Conducting the key groundfish and crab surveys in a limited timeframe would require extraordinarily long surveys, well beyond standard survey operations, they said. Extended quarantines for the survey team prior to and following surveys would also be necessary to ensure survey team and public health safety, they added.
For now the agency plans to rely on previously collected series of fisheries and ecosystem data and stock assessment models to help ensure there is limited conservation impact from the loss of survey data this year.
NOAA Fisheries was also collecting acoustic data using unmanned surface vehicles to support the Pollock assessment.