At the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center, the RACE Division Research Fishing Gear Program manages scientific fishing gear used in support of established fisheries surveys and research, involving a supply of gear that totals over $1.2M and supports the gear logistics that serves up to 10 individual vessels annually. The Program's time-tested competency and craftsmanship facilitates effective design and construction of gear for both the established stock assessment surveys and numerous experimental approaches in Alaska and elsewhere. Depending on the survey, a standard trawl net may be outfitted with one of three different types of footropes. These nets may be outfitted with various electronic sensors, such as dataloggers that collect depth, temperature, and global position. For special purpose studies, equipment such as camera sleds or towed video systems may be used to observe trawl performance, fish habitat, and fish behavior during capture by fishing gear.
The Research Fishing Gear Program was instrumental in developing the criteria and protocols for standardizing and certifying the design, construction, and repair of trawl survey gear that were formalized in the 'NOAA Protocols for Groundfish Bottom Trawl Surveys of the Nation's Fisheries Resources' (see Featured Item). Subsequently, they developed a training curriculum that is designed to reinforce the highest level of quality assurance necessary to meet the objectives of scientific sampling in fish stock assessment surveys, forming an agency-wide standard. Members of the Program conduct training sessions for NOAA fisheries scientists from across the country, and for charter fishing vessel captains and crews prior to stock assessment cruises. They also provide training to the U.S. Coast Guard and state fisheries enforcement groups on fishing gear identification and compliance with NOAA regulations as many are unfamiliar with the specific gear nomenclature and the structural elements critical to enforcing commercial fishing regulations. The Research Fishing Gear team also advises and assists other west coast survey groups working for the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and various state resource agencies.