Fishery Biology and Stock Assessment Division

The Fishery Biology and Stock Assessment Division (FBSAD) conducts fundamental biological and ecological research on fish, sea turtles, and crustaceans caught in federally managed fisheries to enable improved understanding of the mechanisms that influence their distribution and abundance. Life history studies on age and growth, reproduction and fecundity, migration and movement, and mortality are conducted to provide estimates of vital rates for stock assessments and ecosystem-based management. Research is focused on tunas, billfishes, sea turtles, and other pelagic species; bottomfish; and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands lobster. Attention is also being directed toward coral reef and seamount species.

Fishery Biology and Stock Assessment Division FY 2008

The research involves field surveys using a variety of sampling gears, laboratory studies of biological specimens, and analysis of data from experiments using conventional and electronic tags and other tracking methods. Geochemical techniques are used to investigate trophic levels and population connectivity. New fishing technologies are developed, tested, and promoted internationally to reduce fisheries bycatch and effects of pelagic longline and other fisheries on populations of sea turtles, seabirds, sharks, and other species caught incidentally. The ecology of exploited stocks and effects of stock levels, harvests, bycatch, and conservation measures on the broader ecosystem are explored through food web analyses and ecosystem models.

Stock assessments are currently conducted for tunas, billfishes, pelagic sharks, bottomfishes and lobsters. These assessments, along with estimates of the bycatch of sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals are provided to support informed decisions by the NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO), the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPFMC), and international organizations such as the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-Like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC), and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC).

The FBSAD is organized into three programs:

Juvenile bigeye tuna

In addition to directing research activities of the Division, the FBSAD Chief serves as International Science Advisor to the Directors Office, providing critical support and counsel on scientific issues arising with respect to tunas, billfishes, and ecologically associated species in the Pacific. The International Science Advisor is responsible for: providing scientific advice, technical reports, and informed opinion on scientific matters at meetings of the WCPFC, ISC, and other regional fisheries organizations; providing similar scientific support to PIRO, the U.S. State Department, and other members of official U.S. delegations to such meetings; and leading the U.S. delegation at meetings of the WCPFC Scientific Committee. The International Science Advisor also oversees the compilation of official fishery statistics for U.S. fishing fleets harvesting tunas and billfishes in the Pacific Islands Region and, as the U.S. data correspondent, submits such statistics to the WCPFC and other regional field offices.

FBSAD staff provide expertise, advice and leadership within scientific working groups of international fishery organizations including WCPFC and ISC, and in support of multilateral efforts to establish a regional fisheries management organization for the northwest Pacific.

FBSAD staff members also help the Directors Office in overseeing NOAA Grants to the Oceanic Institute, advise the State of Hawaii on matters related to introduced and invasive species, and organize and maintain the PIFSC schedule of research cruises on the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette. FBSAD has a staff of 28 people including 19 federal employees and 9 employees of JIMAR. Staff salaries and benefits made up the largest share of expenditures in FY 2008.

Key 2008 Accomplishments

Challenges, Problems, and Limitations

Increasing FBSAD staff to meet new mandates continues to be difficult due to limited funding and lack of office space. While adequate funding of sea turtle bycatch studies will likely continue, the budget for fish bycatch research has dwindled, and funding for other fish and ecosystem research is very limited. Core fish stock assessment tasks are substantially funded, but mandates to assess additional species and meet new requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservationn and Management Act, particularly establishment of annual catch limits for all fisheries, are unfunded.

Although the Division Chief serves as International Science Advisor for the U.S. delegation to WCPFC and FBSAD staff members contribute significantly to scientific work of the WCPFC, ISC, and other regional international fisheries agreements, PIFSC has not received funding to provide such scientific support for international fisheries.

On the international front, many nations participating in the WCPFC have strongly resisted U.S.-recommended methods for reducing sea turtle bycatch, methods largely tested and widely promoted by FBSAD.

Within the Center, challenges remain with developing and coordinating integrated research programs needed to support ecosystem approaches to management of living marine resources. One of the challenges for FBSAD scientists is to improve stock assessments through greater use of oceanographic data products developed by EOD.

Among other challenges, FBSAD has been asked to help assess coral reef fisheries and provide scientific advice to the State of Hawaii on management of fisheries in the main Hawaiian Islands through closed areas and other means. Information is often lacking to adequately address these issues, which have traditionally been outside Federal jurisdiction.

Future Focus and Direction

Collaborative testing of improved fishing gear to reduce longline bycatch will continue, with a return to studies of longline-seabird interactions, continued collaboration with other nations on sea turtles and increased research on sharks. Recommendations for international fisheries conservation measures on bycatch will be actively promoted. Bycatch work will include completion of a new National Bycatch Report with coverage of all fish species and protected species.

New research will be focused on Hawaiian bottomfish life history, distribution, and stock dynamics, using results of the major new sampling projects funded by the Fisheries Disaster Relief Program. Work will be conducted on standardizing bottomfish CPUE data to account for previous changes in the fisheries, so that trends in stock abundance over time can be more accurately described and future assessments can be improved. A total allowable catch risk analysis model for MHI bottomfish will be provided to the WPFMC and other stakeholders for their use in scenario analyses. This will satisfy technical requirements for setting annual catch limits for MHI bottomfish, which recent stock assessments indicate have been experiencing excessive fishing mortality.

Review and improvement of stock assessments for tunas, billfishes, and sharks will continue under the auspices of the WCPFC and ISC. Work will be published describing the influence of fish habitat, fishing gear configuration, and other variables on indices of abundance for large pelagic species and the vulnerability of these species to fishing gear. Results will be used in CPUE standardization to improve stock assessments. In addition to stock assessment research, significant effort will be devoted to standardizing and documenting methods of fishery data processing and reporting to meet increasing demands of international agreements for information and advice. Production schedules and report formats will be improved and more detailed and comprehensive fisheries statistics will be reported than in previous years.