Imaged from the Depths: 2017 Main Hawaiian Islands BFISH Bottomfish Survey

October 20, 2017  

Onaga, kahala, and opakapaka as seen by the MOUSS (Modular Optical Underwater Survey System) during the 2016 PIFSC BFISH Bottomfish Survey (video contains no audio).

How many bottomfish are out there in the main Hawaiian Islands? How can local fishers and fisheries scientists work together to help ensure sustainable catches into the future? How can we collect better data to continue to improve the science used for management? These are some of the questions driving the annual Bottomfish Fishery-Independent Survey in the main Hawaiian Islands known as BFISH.

Scientists aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette deploy the MOUSS (Modular Optical Underwater Survey System) to collect video data of Deep7 bottomfish in the Main Hawaiian Islands (video contains no audio).

Fishing for bottomfish has been an important component of the Hawaiian culture and economy for centuries. With the designation of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in 2006, fishing for bottomfish became restricted to the eight main Hawaiian Islands. Today, bottomfish account for over 50% of the total commercial catch and are valued in the millions of dollars.

The Hawaiʻi Deep7 bottomfish are a group of seven deep-water snappers and groupers.
The Hawaiʻi Deep7 bottomfish are a group of seven deep-water snappers and groupers.

The Hawaii "Deep7" bottomfish stock, which is made up of opakapaka (pink snapper), onaga (longtail snapper), ehu (squirrelfish snapper), kalekale (Von Siebold's snapper), gindai (Brigham's snapper), lehi (silverjaw snapper), and hapuʻupuʻu (Seale's grouper), has been under a formal fishery management plan since 2005.

The NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) is responsible for conducting assessments of the Deep7 stock, which are used by managers in the development of annual commercial fishery catch limits. The stock assessment process requires reliable sources of data on catch, fishing effort, biology, and abundance. In an effort to continually improve the data going into stock assessments, the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center began developing the BFISH survey in 2016. These, fishery-independent surveys, which are conducted through a partnership between the PIFSC and local commercial fishers, provide scientific estimates of total population abundance, an important calibration for assessment models.

The BFISH survey has two main components. The first component is a cooperative research fishing survey carried out by the Pacific Islands Fisheries Group (PIFG), which contracts local Deep7 commercial fishers to collect data using a standardized traditional fishing method. This year, from September 1st to October 31st, the PIFG fishers are sampling 325 specific locations around the eight main Hawaiian Islands.

Cooperative Research Fishermen aboard the F/V Naomi K supporting the BFISH Main Hawaiian Islands Bottomfish Survey off of 
        Maui.
Cooperative Research Fishermen aboard the F/V Naomi K supporting the BFISH Main Hawaiian Islands Bottomfish Survey off of Maui.

At the same time, scientists from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center will be conducting camera surveys using the Modular Optical Underwater Survey System, known as MOUSS, at 100 sampling stations.

The Modular Optical Underwater Survey System (MOUSS), used to collect video data on the Deep7 stock.  The stereo-camera pair (F) is 
        used to collect video data, which are stored by an internal digital video recorder (C), and powered by a rechargeable battery (D).
The Modular Optical Underwater Survey System (MOUSS), used to collect video data on the Deep7 stock. The stereo-camera pair (F) is used to collect video data, which are stored by an internal digital video recorder (C), and powered by a rechargeable battery (D).
The BFISH 2017 sampling plan. The 325 Cooperative Research Fishing locations are shown in green while the 100 PIFSC MOUSS camera 
        stations are shown in red. Sampling within State of Hawaii Bottomfish Restricted Fishing Areas (BRFAs) conducted under Hawaii 
        Department of Aquatic Resources permit #SAP-2017-35.
The BFISH 2017 sampling plan. The 325 Cooperative Research Fishing locations are shown in green while the 100 PIFSC MOUSS camera stations are shown in red. Sampling within State of Hawaii Bottomfish Restricted Fishing Areas (BRFAs) conducted under Hawaii Department of Aquatic Resources permit #SAP-2017-35.

"This effort is five years in development and we are anxious to use our state-of-the-art cooperative research to understand fish populations and provide the best scientific information to fishery managers for the Deep7 complex," said Dr. Michael Seki, Director of NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

The surveys will be completed in early November, and data analysis will take place over the following few months. The information from the surveys enhances and expands upon data collected from the commercial fishery and will be used in stock assessment reports, which are provided to managers of the Deep7 complex.

Dr. Benjamin Richards, Russell Reardon, and Justin Ossolinski of the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center are leading this research expedition.

The NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette supporting the BFISH Main Hawaiian Islands Bottomfish Survey off Maui.
The NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette supporting the BFISH Main Hawaiian Islands Bottomfish Survey off Maui.

Follow #BFISH on Twitter at @NOAAFish_PIFSC.