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 they concluded that there was no way to move forward with a 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 stays, well beyond standard survey operations. Extended quarantines for the survey team prior to and following the projects would also be necessary to ensure team members and public health safety.
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 and working with federal, state and industry partners to collect other fisheries, oceanographic and ecosystem data. That information will be presented to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee on June 1 and to the full council on June 8. Both sessions are slated to be held online only due to the pandemic.