Commercial Fisheries Biosampling Program Scales up Fieldwork in Guam, CNMI and American Samoa

An article in the March 2011 QRB reported on a training workshop to support the establishment of a Commercial Fisheries Biosampling (CFBS) program across the NMFS Pacific Islands Region – American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Guam, and Hawaii. Since then, the CFBS program has been gaining momentum. Biologists in each of the island regions have been finding solutions to the unique logistical challenges of sampling catch composition and collecting life history data from their own commercial fisheries. Work has focused initially on identifying key species and sampling length and weight frequencies of whole commercial catches, including unsold portions of the catch.

A growing cadre of trained biosamplers provides for extensive collection of data to support fish stock 
                 assessment and improved management of commercial fisheries in Guam. A growing cadre of trained biosamplers provides for extensive collection of data to support fish stock 
                 assessment and improved management of commercial fisheries in Guam.
A growing cadre of trained biosamplers provides for extensive collection of data to support fish stock assessment and improved management of commercial fisheries in Guam.

Guam's biosampling effort was the first to get started, in August 2009, and has been particularly successful as a result of the enthusiastic support of the Guam Fishermen's Cooperative Association (GFCA). The Guam CFBS project regularly samples catches 3-5 days a week and has collected more than 27,000 weights and measurements on more than 180 species (300 fishing trips). Guam's work includes preliminary gonad staging, otolith removal for aging, and collection of fin clips and tissue samples for representation in the international "Fish Barcode of Life" project. Eric Cruz, PIFSC leader of the CFBS program in Guam, has promoted local support of the project through frequent public outreach activities and presentations.

The CFBS program on Saipan, CNMI, is also gaining headway in a market environment very different from Guam's. Focusing on the small fish markets and roadside stands dispersed around the island, local CFBS contractor Micronesian Environmental Services has carefully established a respectful and low-key sampling regime that works around early morning hours, when fishermen are just returning from sea and before fish hit the market. CFBS contractors and Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) staff have sampled more than300 catches and collected over 20,000 length-weight measurements involving 110 species.

American Samoa's CFBS is also gaining ground despite difficulties in arranging transportation of samplers outside of the normal work hours to outdoor, road-side sites dispersed throughout the islands. Sampling has become significantly easier as a larger proportion of the catches are becoming available in a centralized indoor market supported by funding from the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council. The CFBS staff now routinely goes out to intercept fishermen and bring the catch to the central market site for sampling. After the fish are sampled, fishermen are able to sell their catch at the market or elsewhere, according to their choice. Collaboration between partners in the project, including the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, minimizes unnecessarily repetitive questioning of fishermen regarding their fishing effort, fishing locations, and other information related to the catch. Focusing currently on Tutuila, the CFBS project is developing an active network of cooperating fishermen who call in to provide an opportunity to sample their catch.