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Assessment of Coral Bycatch from the Alaska Groundfish Trawl Fleet in Collaboration with the North Pacific Fisheries Observer Program

Project Goal

To improve the accuracy of coral bycatch data beyond the currently specified level of “coral unidentified,” by providing specific training to fisheries observers in the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program (NPGOP) on identification of corals in the field.

Geographic Location

Aleutian Islands of Alaska, North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea

Approach

A guide to 24 taxa of corals known from the Aleutian Islands was constructed for field use, and a training lecture and slide show were prepared for presentation to onboard fisheries observers during pre-deployment briefing. Training time was approximately 1 hour for each briefing.

Results

During the 2012 training year (Dec 2011 – Oct 2012), a total of 122 observers received the coral identification training during 14 separate briefing sessions. Observers who received the training sampled 8,389 hauls (as of 19 Nov 2012), and reported corals (excluding sea whips/pens) in 362 (4.3%) of those hauls. A total of 36 specimens were collected, and feedback questionnaires were received from 17 observers. During the 2013 training year (Dec 2012 – March 2013), a total of 183 observers received the training during 10 briefing sessions. We made some improvements to the training, including the addition of a coral specimen log sheet to help track identifications as well as improvements to the training specimen collection. In addition, we streamlined the field guide by eliminating some of the non-critical information and combining some of the most difficult taxa. These changes have resulted in slightly less training time, lower guide production costs, and less confusion among observers.

Importance to Management

Prior to this project, the only useful information on coral distribution for the North Pacific was coming from fishery independent stock assessment surveys and the limited submersible surveys from research cruises. Observer data represents a potential tremendous source of information on coral distribution and diversity and potential interactions with fisheries to assist resource managers in improving management of sensitive ecosystem components.

Fiscal Year 2012 Funding

$48,427

Point of Contact

Robert Stone, Bob.Stone@noaa.gov