NOAA Fisheries Announces Changes in Alaska Survey Portfolio

Image: Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

The Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) said in early June that it plans to redesign and reprioritize efforts in several of its surveys this year, while advancing ways to more efficiently collect data and accomplish its research mission to support sustainable fisheries management.

The new survey combines the current eastern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey, the northern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey, and portions of the historical Eastern Bering Sea slope survey.

AFSC is also suspending one survey due to shortfalls in cost recovery to the industry in conducting the survey, related to depressed economic value of the harvest.

It’s all part of a NOAA Fisheries multi-year effort, announced June 7, to strategically respond to climate-driven changes in the environment, maintain fishery survey operating efficiencies and modernization efforts, plus mitigate shifting survey needs.

Scientists at AFSC are designing a new standardized annual bottom trawl survey for the Bering Sea over the next few years. The new survey is expected to be crafted to offer more comprehensive species-level data products to stakeholders by better capturing the current spatial distribution of many key stocks of fish and shellfish in a single survey area.

According to NOAA Fisheries, field testing of the new survey design is needed to maintain data integrity by ensuring consistency and continuity of data collection with the historic time series.

No Northern Bering Sea survey is to be conducted in fiscal year 2024. Instead, the Northern Bering Sea survey resumes as a biennial survey in odd-numbered years beginning in fiscal year 2025, following its original design until a new comprehensive survey is developed.

AFSC’s plans for this year also include reduced effort in three surveys.

The Eastern Bering Sea Summer Acoustics survey on the NOAA ship Dyson is to be reduced by 22 days, and the Eastern Bering Sea Bottom Trawl Survey and Aleutian Islands Bottom Trawl Survey, both conducted on charter vessels, are being reduced by nine and 20 days, respectively.

The reductions in survey days are to be re-allocated to fiscal year 2025 surveys, NOAA officials said.

The Alaska longline survey is also to be suspended this year. NOAA officials said that AFSC had been able to conduct this survey with industry through cost-recovery efforts.

Proceeds from sale of fish caught during the survey have been used to cover operating expenses and vessel charter costs. In recent years, the vessel operator has incurred losses due to the low economic value of the harvest.

NOAA Fisheries and AFSC have said they’re looking for new options to conduct the survey in the future.