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Groundfish Assessment Program

Habitat Scientists Present at Two Conferences:

1)  Marine Habitat Mapping Technology Workshop for Alaska


Members of the RACE Habitat Research group presented a series of posters at the Marine Habitat Mapping Technology Workshop for Alaska, held 2–4 April 2007 in Anchorage, Alaska. The primary goals of the workshop were to conduct a technical and methodological review of benthic habitat mapping in the marine waters of Alaska and to discuss approaches for selecting appropriate and cost-effective tools for this purpose. The posters provided an overview of the systematic approach that the Habitat Research group is using to develop quantitative habitat models for eastern Bering Sea (EBS) groundfish, with specific examples from current research projects.

The first poster “Mapping environmental variables to produce Essential Fish Habitat models” (by Bob McConnaughey, Cynthia Yeung, Steve Syrjala, and Keith Smith) summarized the iterative development of groundfish habitat models, our use of trawl survey estimates of abundance as an indicator of habitat quality, and emphasized the need for new environmental-data sources to adequately characterize habitat requirements in the region. The poster is available on the AFSC Web site at http://access.afsc.noaa.gov/pubs/posters/pdfs/pMcConnaughey01_mapping.pdf  (3.5MB).

The second poster “Using acoustics to characterize sediments for Essential Fish Habitat models” (by Bob McConnaughey, Lloyd Huff with the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, Cynthia Yeung, and Steve Syrjala) described the Habitat group’s research to identify more efficient methods for mapping the seabed sediments that affect EBS groundfish distributions. Pilot studies with a split-beam echosounder (38 kHz) and a sidescan sonar (455 kHz) indicate that acoustic systems are useful for this purpose, and a definitive study to develop operational guidelines for broad-scale acoustic mapping has been initiated. The poster is available o the AFSC Web site at http://access.afsc.noaa.gov/pubs/posters/pdfs/pMcConnaughey02_acoustics.pdf  (520KB).

The third poster “Adding ecological context to EFH models using groundtruthing technologies” (by Mark Amend, Jay Lomnicky, Keith Smith, Bob McConnaughey and Cynthia Yeung of the Groundfish Assessment Program, and Glenn McGillicuddy and Yuri Rzhanov with the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping) highlighted the need for groundtruthing of acoustic data, in order to improve understanding of ecological relationships and guide the formulation of our fish habitat models. This work described three complementary technologies and illustrated the resulting multi-faceted view of the physical and biological components of habitat. The poster is available on the AFSC Web site at http://access.afsc.noaa.gov/pubs/posters/pdfs/pAmend01_context.pdf  (1.65MB).

The Habitat Research group also contributed to a fourth poster authored by research partners at the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping entitled “Evaluating Impact of Bottom Trawls Using Enhanced Data Processing of High-Resolution Side Scan Sonar Imagery” (by Tianhang Huo, Lloyd Huff, and Bob McConnaughey). This research evaluates use of a sidescan sonar for quantifying change in a soft-bottom area of the EBS after disturbance with a commercial bottom trawl.


2)  U.S. Hydro 2007 Conference

Research by the Groundfish Assessment Program’s Habitat Research group was also presented at the U.S. Hydro 2007 Conference held 14-17 May in Norfolk, Virginia. This gathering continued the series of hydrographic conferences that alternate between the United States and Canada. Lt. Jay Lomnicky, Benthic Mapping Specialist with the Habitat Research group, gave an oral presentation and submitted a paper entitled “Hydrography through the eyes of a fish – can acoustic backscatter be used to classify benthic fish habitat?” (by Jay Lomnicky, Bob McConnaughey, Cynthia Yeung, Keith Smith and Mark Amend).

This work describes the ongoing collaboration between NOAA hydrographers and RACE fisheries biologists to improve understanding of fish habitat in the EBS while, at the same time, providing Internal Hydrographic Organization quality soundings for updating nautical charts. The presentation included various recommendations for matrix-managed projects of this type, based on the Habitat group’s FISHPAC project experiences in summer 2006. More information on FISHPAC is on the AFSC Web site at http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/RACE/groundfish/hrt/fishpac.php

The Habitat Research group also contributed to a poster presented by research partners at the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping entitled “Brooke Ocean Technology’s Free-Fall Cone Penetrometer: deployment experience aboard the NOAA ship Fairweather” (by Glenn McGillicuddy and Lloyd Huff with the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, and Bob McConnaughey).

Based on nearly 200 deployments during the group’s FISHPAC experiment in 2006, the Free-Fall Cone Penetrometer (FFCPt) hardware and software were evaluated and various operational considerations were discussed. This experience indicated the FFCPt, with some refinement, could be a valuable tool that reduces the use of bottom grabs to distinguish sediment types in an area of interest.

By Bob McConnaughey
 

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