Research and Development

NOAA is committed, under its Healthy Oceans Goal, to two objectives directly related to protected species science and management: “improved understanding of ecosystems to inform resource management decisions” and “recovered and healthy marine and coastal species.” Evidence of progress toward these objectives over the next five years will include:

  • “Next-generation fish and protected resource stock assessments incorporating habitat, ecosystem, and climate information;”
  • “Living marine resource managers using high-quality data to inform management plans and decisions;”
  • “Stabilized or increased abundance of species that are depleted, threatened, or endangered;”
  • “Decreased bycatch of protected species;” and
  • “Increased number of protected species with improving status.”

These responsibilities fall under NOAA Fisheries jurisdiction, and meeting such objectives will require assessments of current and projected future status of the approximately, 429 protected species stocks in our jurisdiction (as of FY16). Achieving these milestones will require better integration of habitat and ecosystem characteristics, anthropogenic threats, and environmental factors. As NOAA Fisheries moves more toward an ecosystem-based framework, long-term, multi-platform and multi-disciplinary data collection is essential for next generation assessments. Additionally, these assessments for many species will require national and international collaboration on data collection and species management.

Internal Funding Allocations (IFAs)

PSSB is primarily involved in championing for and securing research funds to support basic and novel NMFS projects that would enhance scientific understanding and contribute to species conservation and recovery in the long-term. The PSSB administers two main Internal Funding Allocation (IFA) grants: Ocean Acoustics and Sea Turtle Assessment IFAs.  In addition, PSSB staff provide technical advice and national coordination on a variety of protected species related research projects. 

National Protected Species Toolbox

Anthropogenic impacts are a serious conservation and management concern for protected and other non-target megafauna species such as sea turtles, marine mammals, sharks, and seabirds. In the USA, management actions and environmental policies are geared towards reducing impacts on critical species from fisheries bycatch, oil spills, and habitat and climate change. Implementing the appropriate regulatory or management action requires data and appropriate data-analysis frameworks. For example, under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, reference points are required to be estimated for all target and non-target species considered a part of the fishery. Under the Endangered Species Act, analyses are needed to inform the question of whether proposed actions will jeopardize listed species. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, limits to direct human-caused mortality and serious injuries must be estimated.

Common traits of many marine megafauna include slow life histories (long-lived, late-maturing, low-recruitment to adult stage), widespread distribution across political boundaries, and being poorly sampled by research surveys. These factors result in data scarcities and present a challenge to established assessment methods used to manage exploited marine populations that are frequently data intensive. 

Since 2013, the Office of Science and Technology, has supported the development of quantitative analytical tools at various NMFS Science Centers. The idea was to encourage cross-center collaboration and improve our R&D capabilities and be responsive to critical management concerns. This is a long-term investment. Between FY13 and 15, we funded seven projects. The overarching strategic approach is to develop various quantitative assessment tools, test them on common simulated datasets, and apply them to real datasets. Four of the seven projects focused on application of methods to sea turtle populations, given the immediate need and complexity of sea turtle management issues. However, the proposed approaches will be transferable to other protected and non-target species. A new suite of tool development projects have been proposed for 3-year funding from FY15 through FY18. 

Please visit the Protected Species Toolbox page for more details and a list of funded projects.

Databases

The Protected Species Science Branch (PSSB) manages two principal internal databases: Protected Species Incidental Take (PSIT) and the Protected Species Information System (PSIS). Additionally, recipients of Marine Turtle Assessment and Acoustics awards are required to submit metadata to InPort, a publicly-searchable database. For more details, please see our Databases page.