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Groundfish Assessment Program

Trawl and Setline Survey Workshop Held at the AFSC

Scientists from Canadian and U.S. federal and state fisheries agencies gathered at AFSC Headquarters in Seattle on 22-24 March 2011 for a workshop on trawl and setline groundfish resource surveys. Most attendees were from the Pacific Coast and a few joined us from the Atlantic Coast as well (e.g., NOAA Fisheries Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Virginia Institute of Marine Science Northeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program, and Maine Department of Marine Resources).

The workshop was convened by a working group of the Technical Subcommittee (TSC) of the Canada-U.S. Groundfish Committee, a technical working group from Pacific Coast fisheries research and management agencies that has been meeting since 1960 seeking ways to collaborate and leverage each others' programs.

The core Trawl Survey Working Group of the TSC, representing NOAA Fisheries' AFSC and Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) and Fisheries & Oceans Canada (DFO) Pacific Biological Station (Nanaimo, British Columbia), began meeting regularly in 2002 to share expertise and knowledge of trawl survey methodology. In 2010, the TSC recommended that the group augment and broaden their annual meeting by inviting participants from other Pacific Coast state agencies, as well as researchers using fixed gear methods to survey groundfish resources. The March 2011 workshop, with nearly 60 participants, realized this recommendation.

At the workshop researchers described various trawl and setline surveys conducted by their respective agencies to assess various stocks of groundfishes. A particularly interesting focus session featured representatives from Rapp Hydema US, an international firm that provides trawl winches for research and fishing fleets. They presented a detailed functional description of the automatic tensioning systems ("autotrawl") featured in their winches and discussed with workshop participants the pros and cons of using autotrawl technology during scientific or research trawl survey sampling.

More than a dozen presentations were made on a variety of topics including ergonomics and safety, the effects of ambient light levels on catch rates, improvements in methods for data analysis, and how to present results effectively. Lively discussions ensued following nearly every presentation. As wrap up, a general discussion covered a variety of issues relating to groundfish resource topics including peer review of survey methods, challenges of continuing to fund surveys, design problems related to missed station sampling opportunities, ever-increasing data requests and workloads, and the emerging issue of protected species catches on conducting fisheries survey operations.

The workshop offered an opportunity for scientists from a wide range of agencies, each working on similar projects, to gather and share their insights, challenges, and frustrations about this important work they do. Organizers Mark Wilkins (AFSC/RACE Division), Rick Stanley (DFO Pacific Biological Station), and Aimee Keller (NWFSC, FRAM Division) are particularly grateful to Bruce Leaman and the International Pacific Halibut Commission for hosting a convivial dinner on the first evening, which effectively promoted and facilitated communication among participants (as well as being delicious).

A link to the proceedings of the workshop can be found on the TSC homepage at where a list of participants, the agenda, slideshows of the survey overviews and special topic presentations, and the minutes are posted.

By Mark Wilkins

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