BycatchReduction

Bycatch Reduction

Not everything caught by a fishing vessel is kept. In many cases, fishing vessels discard (throw back) undersized or unmarketable fish and other species. Some protected and regulated species cannot be kept by law: these are also discarded. In other cases, the fishing vessel has reached its total allowable catch (TAC) for a species, so any additional catch of that species must be discarded. Depending on the fishery, discards may be live or dead.

Observer programs are the primary source for discard data in the U.S. While on board commercial fishing vessels, observers record the type and amount of discards as well as the reason for discarding. Without this information we would have an incomplete picture of fishing impacts. High levels of discards, particularly of commercial and ecologically valuable species, may indicate a need to alter fishing activities or gear to reduce the impact of fishing on the marine environment.

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Generating stock assessments

Generating stock assessments

NOAA Fisheries scientists periodically evaluate fish stocks to monitor their size and health. The resulting stock assessments determine whether changes in the population are due to natural or human-related causes and predict future trends in the population. These assessments drive the fisheries management process and enable managers to set catch levels, maintain healthy fish populations, and rebuild overfished stocks as directed by the Magnuson Stevens Act. The stock assessment process requires detailed information for each species, including size, age, gender, and number caught. NOAA Fisheries Fishery biologists use the information provided by observer programs, along with other data sources such as research cruises and fishermen-reported data, to complete a stock assessment.

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Protected Resources imageEstimating takes of marine mammals and other protected species
Data collected on fishery interactions with protected species (marine mammals, sea turtles, certain populations of fish, and endangered seabirds) aid scientists in developing measures to reduce the risk of fisheries interactions. The information collected by fisheries observers allows scientists to monitor the health of marine mammal and protected species populations, fulfilling agency mandates under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Biological data, such as estimates of the total number, age, and gender, of animals incidentally killed or seriously injured during the course of commercial fishing operations are used by NOAA Fisheries Take Reduction Teams when developing federally mandated Take Reduction Plans (TRPs). These plans are developed to assist in the recovery or prevent the depletion of certain strategic marine mammal stocks (the term “take” is used to describe fisheries interactions not permitted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act or Endangered Species Act). Similarly, biological data on capture and discard rates of fish species are an important component of recovery plans developed for threatened and endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

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GearResearchMonitoring experimental fisheries and gear types, including bycatch reduction devices

The fishing industry constantly evolves as new technology is developed and new markets open. Observer programs offer a means to collect information on the impacts of changes in fishing activity and gear types. Observers are often included as a condition of federal Exempted Fishing Permits (EFPs). EFPs are issued to test modifications to fishing gear, such as bycatch reduction devices. An EFP may also be issued when a fishery develops to fill a new market. In all of these cases, observers provide a means of collecting reliable scientific data, allowing fisheries managers to make balanced decisions on the potential benefits and impacts of the experiment. In the past, observer data collected under EFPs has led to the development of bycatch reduction devices such as the Turtle Excluder Devices (TED) in the Southeastern U.S. shrimp trawl fishery and the implementation of acoustic deterrents (“pingers”) to reduce harbor porpoise bycatch in the Northeast and Southwest.

Providing data used to enforce fisheries regulations
FisheriesRegulations
Most observer programs are authorized through federal fisheries management plans (FMPs), which are administered by regional councils. Each FMP outlines what measures will be used to regulate the fishery. Observer data are critical to the success of FMP regulations such as quotas, caps, and discard allocations. For example, when the amount of a specific fish species that can be caught has been specified by a “total allowable catch” (or TAC) level, observer data are used during the fishing season to project when the cap has been reached. For rebuilding species, such as New England groundfish, preseason target catch numbers are provided to the management team. After the fishing season has passed, observer data are evaluated and compared to the preseason targets to evaluate total mortality. The next season’s targets are adjusted correspondingly. NOAA Fisheries may also cap the number of marine mammals, sea turtles, or sea birds incidentally caught by the fishery. Observer data are used to estimate when that number has been reached. If it is reached before the fishing season ends, the fishery may be closed early.

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