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Mapping and Analysis of West Coast Groundfish

This project began in November 2011 and was completed in June 2013

We are developing groundfish distribution maps to support fisheries management and conservation. The maps are based on a compilation and analysis of fish observations and environmental data, and innovative spatial predictive models. They show continuous predictions of occurrence, relative abundance and uncertainty for the entire U.S. West Coast at an unprecedented 1km spatial resolution. We are working with The Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, and NOAA Fisheries.

Why We Care
West Coast groundfish include more than 90 species of bottom-dwelling marine finfish, including all species of rockfishes, sole, sablefish, thornyheads, and lingcod. Commercial and recreational fishing for groundfish contribute jobs and millions of dollars to the economy, but groundfish are in decline. NOAA recently implemented a new catch share system to help rebuild stocks and to increase incentives and accountability for more sustainable fishing. The new system has generated interest in a re-examination of the purpose and siting of existing spatial fisheries management measures. Our analyses of groundfish spatial patterns support new evaluations of strategies for conservation and sustainable fishing.

What We Are Doing
We are compiling fish observations and environmental data sets (e.g., depth, bottom temperature) and using innovative spatial predictive models to develop new groundfish distribution maps. The new maps show continuous predictions of occurrence, relative abundance and uncertainty at unprecedented spatial resolution (1 km) for the entire West Coast.

Our maps will help answer questions such as: What are important environmental drivers of groundfish distributions? Where are groundfish species hotspots and coldspots and how do these relate to marine protected areas? Where are we most and least certain of groundfish distributions? How have groundfish distributions changed over time? What are useful indicators of groundfish population changes?

Our work builds on existing data and regional modeling efforts, and relies on expertise found in NOAA’s Northwest, Southwest and Alaska Fisheries Science Centers, the seafloor mapping lab at California State University, the sustainable fisheries group at University of California (Santa Barbara), Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, The Nature Conservancy and Environmental Defense Fund. Ensuring existing work is incorporated and results are vetted by the numerous scientists working on Pacific groundfishes are key components of this project.

The study area includes the Pacific U.S. EEZ offshore of California, Oregon, and Washington, where sufficient data are present to produce analyses. The primary data source is fishery-independent annual trawl survey data collected by the Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Fishery Resource Monitoring Division (FRAM) from 2003–2010. This coastwide spatial analysis of existing data is expected to provide context for a more focused study off the Central California Coast to collect additional data on the distribution and demography of overfished species in and around the Rockfish Conservation Area (e.g., http://www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa/pdfs/map14.pdf) using remotely operated vehicle visual surveys and directed fishing effort.

Our modeling efforts target on a range of groundfishes which are either targeted or avoided in the groundfish fishery, including: Bocaccio, Canary Rockfish, Cowcod, Darkblotched rockfish, Pacific ocean perch, Widow rockfish, Yelloweye rockfish, Petrale sole, Sablefish, Longspine and Shortspine thornhead rockfish, Blackgill rockfish, Chillipeper rockfish, Dover sole, and Lingcod.

Next Steps
We are compiling diverse fishery-dependent and fishery-independent data sets and developing new predictive models to examine the distribution of size-structure and changes in distribution over time. We are awaiting approval from NMFS to make initial distribution models available to the public. We anticipate these models will be used by non-governmental organizations, NMFS and state resource managers for fisheries and ocean activity planning.

Benefits and Outcomes
Potential These data sets and models will:

1) support development of bycatch avoidance plans aimed at minimizing catch of overfished species and reaching allowable catch limits for target species,

2) inform discussions regarding the potential for reconfiguration of Rockfish Conservation Areas and other closed areas to allow for fishing in places where target species can be caught “cleanly”, and

3) inform stock assessments.

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