NOAA logo JAS 2000 Quarterly Rpt. sidebar

Resource Ecology &
Fisheries Management Division

(Quarterly Report for July-Aug-Sept 2000)


Atka Mackerel Tagging And Spawning Habitat Cruise

The fishing vessel Morning Star was chartered by the AFSC for a 24-day cruise in the Seguam Pass area of the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. The cruise represents the second year of work by the Center on Atka mackerel in the Seguam Pass area.  The primary objective of the first leg (21 July-2 August ) was to tag and release Atka mackerel; the primary objective of the second leg (3-13 August) was to conduct diving and camera studies in Atka mackerel spawning grounds.

Tagging (Leg 1)

The first leg of the cruise was part of a study to determine the efficacy of trawl exclusion zones as a management tool to maintain prey availability for Steller sea lions, Eumetopius jubatus.  Trawl exclusion zones were established around Steller sea lion rookeries as a precautionary measure to protect populations of prey such as Atka mackerel around important terrestrial sea lion habitats.  Two types of tags were deployed during the first leg of the cruise:

  1. Spaghetti T-bar tags were put on 8,896 fish, which were released in areas open and closed to the commercial Atka mackerel fishery.  Recoveries of tagged fish by the fishery in the open area and by a chartered vessel in the closed area will be used to estimate abundance and movement between open and closed areas.  As of 28 September, over 50 of the fish tagged in 2000 had been recovered, as well as several tagged in 1999.

  2. Data storage tags (DSTs) were attached to 117 fish.  DSTs collect and store information on water temperature, depth, and time that will be used to investigate the vertical movement patterns of Atka mackerel within the water column.  As of 28 September, 8 DSTs had been recovered; the data are currently being analyzed.

Also, two current meters were deployed in the vicinity of the tag release sites in the closed area, one of which was recovered.  The meter recorded information on the velocity of tidal currents, light intensity, depth (tide height), and temperature near the bottom (82 fms depth).

Dive Study (Leg 2)

The basic biology of Atka mackerel has been poorly studied despite its commercial value and importance as a key forage species for the endangered Steller sea lion and other marine piscivores.  A peculiar aspect of Atka mackerel’s life history is that the adults switch from a predominantly pelagic to mostly demersal existence during spawning in summer and early fall. Adults migrate to shallower water where females deposit their eggs onto rocky substrate.  Males fertilize the demersal egg clusters and remain over the nests to guard and aerate the eggs. Such nesting sites have been documented in Russian waters; their existence in U.S. territorial waters was not verified until August 1999.  The seasonality, spatial extent, and physical characteristics of Atka mackerel nesting areas within the Aleutian Islands are in need of further study.

The primary objective of the second leg of the cruise was to estimate and more fully describe the spawning area near Finch Cove, Seguam Island.  The Morning Star served as a support platform for near-shore dives and underwater camera work. Thirty-four scuba dives and numerous drop camera sets were made in the near shore areas surrounding Seguam and Amlia Islands. The drop cameras and scuba dives were used to:

  1. survey these coastal areas for nesting habitat

  2. delineate the nesting site boundaries and estimate nest density of the Finch Cove spawning site

  3. collect embryo masses to determine batch size and developmental stages

  4. describe the physical and biological habitat of nesting areas.

The drop cameras were color video cameras using ambient light and towed just off bottom; video signals were recorded on Hi8 tape and viewed in real time aboard a small inflatable boat.  In addition, three in situ time lapse camera deployments were made at Finch Cove (where nests were seen last year) to document the timing of spawning and nesting behaviors of males.  The first deployment was done prior to spawning on 14 June during a previous, separately funded Aleutian Island groundfish bottom trawl survey.  The time lapse camera was retrieved on 5 August, presumably after spawning began.  The second and third deployments of the in situ camera were made on 6 and 9 August and lasted for 3 days and 2 days, respectively. The last deployment pointed towards a nest that contained several embryo masses.  A current meter was set down in the vicinity of the nest at the same time to determine current velocities in the nesting area and to relate nesting activities with current.


Stomachs collected totaled 7,728 from the eastern Bering Sea, and 3,084 from the Aleutian Islands region.  A new sampling scheme was implemented this year to sample the food habits of the complete fish community caught at representative sites in the two regions.  Key sites were chosen to represent a cross-section of depths and habitat types.  Laboratory analysis was performed on 2,055 groundfish stomachs from the eastern Bering Sea, and 880 Pacific whiting from the West Coast.  No fishery observers returned groundfish stomach samples during the quarter.

By Pat Livingston.


Estimated production figures for 1 January to September 30 2000:

Dover sole 353 Atka mackerel 1,474
Northern rock sole 968 Pacific whiting 1,793
Yellowfin sole 1,265 Pacific ocean perch 986
Walleye pollock 11,701 Northern rockfish 493
Sablefish 4,150 Light dusky rockfish 653

Total production figures were 23,836 with 6,395 test ages and 316 examined and determined to be unageable.

By Dan Kimura


Cost, Earnings, and Employment Survey Update

Cost, Earnings, and Employment Survey questionnaires were delivered to all participants in the Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands walleye pollock fishery in mid-January.  Participants include owners of catcher vessels, catcher processors, shoreside processing plants, and motherships. Extensive follow-up was conducted in order to increase survey participation, with replacement surveys sent to those who had not received or lost their surveys.  REFM  economists also contacted industry organizations to encourage more responses, assured that the responses would remain confidential, and provided industry with a NMFS policy statement on protecting such data from disclosure. Despite these efforts, the Center has received only a few questionnaire responses. Only one catcher processor responded; no inshore processor or motherships responded, and only a few catcher vessels responded, none of which were major participants in the pollock fishery.

Associations representing most pollock processors organized a meeting held in May where  industry members expressed their reluctance to provide the Center with vessel, plant, or company data. They also expressed reluctance to provide revenue by product grade and some input data.  As a substitute for the Center’s current data collection project, representatives from the processor associations have offered to collect data from their members, which would then be verified and aggregated before being made available to the Center.

This type of aggregate data could potentially provide useful economic information.  However, the absence of disaggregated data presents several problems and limitations on the types of analyses it can support.  For example, cost functions, profit functions, and random utility models could not be estimated.  The Center is currently examining other data limitations arising from collecting aggregate data and other logistical and practical consequences.

Based on the outcome of the meeting discussed above and the minimal number of returns from pollock processors and catcher vessels, we have concluded that a voluntary survey will not successfully collect vessel and plant level data.  Voluntarily provided aggregate data may be useful.  However, if the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) and NMFS determine that vessel and plant level data are needed, it will likely be necessary to make provision of that data mandatory. The Science and Statistical Committee of the NPFMC was informed in June of the current state of the Cost, Earnings, and Employment data collection effort.

Center economists participated in the NPFMC’s Social and Economic Data Committee meeting help at the Center in August. The meeting focused on two parallel issues:

  1. aggregate versus disaggregate data relative to the Cost, Earnings, and Employment Survey

  2. identification of a suite of data needs for economic analysis in light of regulatory analysis requirements.

It was agreed that representatives of the four sectors of the Bering Sea-Aleutian  Islands pollock fishery would develop a draft proposal that would identify the following:

  1. the data which industry cannot or will provide, the data which will be provided in the aggregate, and the data which will be provided at the individual firm/plant/vessel level

  2. a process for collecting, verifying, and making that data available to agency and Council economists.

The committee formed an industry and agency workgroup that will review the industry proposal and develop a process to make improved cost, earnings and employment data available to assess the economic performance of the Alaska groundfish fisheries.

By Joe Terry.


Training, Briefing, and Debriefing Statistics

During the third quarter of 2000, 243 observers were trained, briefed, and equipped for deployment to fishing and processing vessels and shoreside plants in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands region, and North Pacific waters off the coasts of Oregon and Washington.  They sampled aboard 210 fishing and processing vessels and at 16 shoreside processing plants.  These observers were trained or briefed in various locations.  The University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) Observer Training Center trained 35 first-time observers and another 104 observers with prior experience were briefed at this site. The AFSC Observer Program in Seattle trained 19 first-time observers and briefed another 59 observers who had prior experience. At the program’s field office in Kodiak, 7 more observers was briefed and 19 were excused from briefing because they had just completed a cruise successfully and were returning immediately to the field.  The third quarter 2000 observer workforce thus comprised 22% new observers and 78% experienced observers.

The Observer Program conducted a total of 124 debriefings during the third quarter of 2000.  Four debriefings were held in Kodiak, five in Dutch Harbor, 19 in Anchorage, and 96 were held in Seattle.

Observer Program Review and Proposed Action

An extensive, independent review of the Observer Program began in late 1999.  The review was carried out by the consulting firm Marine Resources Assessment Group (MRAG) Americas, Inc. The purpose of this review was to provide recommendations for changes in Observer Program operations and organization to its ability to meet its mission and goals.  The final report along with a response from the AFSC was made available to the NPFMC in September.

Two key recommendations in the MRAG report are 1) reestablishing program goals and objectives and 2) developing  a contractual relationship between NMFS and the observer companies. Reestablishing goals and objectives is an important step in defining and guiding the role and direction of the Observer Program. Development of a contractual relationship between NMFS and the observer companies is an initiative toward eliminating  any real or perceived conflicts of interest between the observer companies and the fishing fleet they service.  As a first step, the Observer Program proposes developing a pilot contract using the American Fisheries Act (AFA) catcher processor and mothership fleet.  Under the arrangement, the AFA fleet would be required to seek their observer coverage from the observer company that holds that contract with NMFS.  The contract is envisioned as a “no cost” arrangement where the observer company receives payment for services directly from the AFA fleet and must abide by the performance standards of the contract in order to retain its exclusive rights to provide observers to the AFA fleet.  This contractual arrangement will place the NMFS Observer Program in the role of “client” in the eyes of the observer company, and is designed to significantly reduce any perceived or actual conflict of interest between the AFA fleet and the current observer companies that service that fleet.

In addition to the MRAG review, the Observer Program has also been reexamined this year along with all other NMFS observer programs, through the annual NMFS management control review (MCR) process.  The new National Observer Program Advisory Team (NOPAT) has been actively involved in this endeavor. NOPAT is made up of representatives from all NMFS regional offices, science centers and observer programs and is coordinated through the NMFS National Observer Program. The AFSC’s Observer Program contribution to the MCR report was completed in late September, and the complete national MCR report will be available soon.

By Bob Maier.