Integrating Habitat Information into Stock Assessments to Maximize Precision: A Case Study Using Data from the Annual Sea Scallop Survey Provided by HabCamV4, an Integrated Habitat Mapping Camera and Acoustics System

Principal Investigator: Dvora Hart
Co-Principal Investigators: Robert Johnston, Burton Shank, Tom Noji, Richard Langton, Vincent Guida
External Collaborator: Scott Gallager (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute), Joe Futrelle (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute), Amber York (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute), Larry Mayer (University of New Hampshire)

img_0058.jpgEmerging optical and acoustic technology is greatly improving our ability to understand essential fish and invertebrate habitat. However, these technologies often generate enormous amounts of data that requires systematic workflows and analysis in order to use them most effectively. For example, the HabCam system has been used since 2007 to assess sea scallop abundance along the northeast continental shelf by capturing contiguous seafloor imagery, which is then annotated by hand to extract scallop abundance, size and distributions. In addition, substrate type and the presence of fish are always noted. However, a trove of information remains untapped in this image data set including the distribution of macrobenthic organisms, epifaunal cover, and water column hydrographic data, which taken together can define habitat in very unique ways. Since 2012 the NOAA stereo HabCamV4 system has been used to generate sea scallop stock abundance data together with seafloor maps of bathymetry and backscatter from the on-board high resolution acoustic imaging system (Benthos C3D). It is anticipated that the HabCamV4 system will be used for many years to come on the annual sea scallop survey thereby providing a historical data set that can be mined for habitat information for a variety of commercially important stocks. These survey cruises are being conducted on the R/V Hugh Sharp, which also has an ADCP and Reson 7125 Multibeam ecosounder on board.

img_0039.jpgThe NOAA HabCamV4 system was also used in July 2013 to specifically map habitat type for a BOEM sponsored project in the wind farm management area off of Maryland. A specific target during this cruise was black sea bass for which its habitat (rocks) is widely scattered and difficult to assess. While the analysis of these data is ongoing, it is clear that by targeting rocky structures as part of the survey design, sea bass can be enumerated more efficiently than if habitat was ignored. Further, habitat-based observations of the stock combined with a more detailed understanding of hard bottom habitat distribution and analysis of habitat vulnerability will prove useful in developing spatial management measures for both fishing and non-fishing anthropogenic activities. While the analysis of these data have been slowed by unanticipated computer hardware and software problems, the methods being developed hold considerable promise for improved assessment of stocks in habitats that are difficult to sample by conventional means. Further, results should prove useful in developing and assessing spatial management schemes for stocks showing strong habitat fidelity.

whipcoralcropped.jpgThis project will provide the hardware and software infrastructure to conduct end to end analysis of habitat from HabCam and other optical and acoustic image data sets to assist in management of a variety of commercially important stocks.

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Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC)


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