NOAA Cancels Five Large-Scale Fishery Surveys Due to COVID-19

File image courtesy NOAA

Published May 24, 2020 8:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

NOAA Fisheries announced Friday that it will cancel five out of its six large-scale research surveys in Alaskan waters this year due to COVID-19. The canceled surveys include the Aleutian Islands bottom trawl survey, the eastern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey, the northern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey, the Bering Sea pollock acoustics survey, and the Fall Ecosystem Survey. The Alaska Longline Survey is not affected. 

"We determined that there is no way to move forward with a survey plan that effectively minimizes risks to staff, crew, and the communities associated with the surveys. For instance, conducting the key groundfish and crab surveys in a limited timeframe would require extraordinarily long surveys, well beyond standard survey operations," wrote NOAA Fisheries in a statement. "Extended quarantines for the survey team prior to and following surveys would also be necessary to ensure survey team and public health and safety."

As an alternative, NOAA will use unmanned surface vehicles to support the assessment for the key pollock fishery. It will also rely more upon the data collected by other agencies and industry partners, and it will make use of the records kept by fisheries observers. Prior-year data and computer modeling techniques will also help make up the difference, and the agency hopes that the loss of the 2020 dataset will have only "limited conservation impact."

As in any year, it will be up to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) to determine what to do with the data available and how to set quota allocations. The NPFMC's scientific committee meetings are set for early June. 

The council suspended the Gulf of Alaska cod fishery altogether for the 2020 season due to historically low numbers, a phenomenon that researchers associate with warming North Pacific waters.