Grant funding takes West Coast sardine study to next level

WESTPORT, WA / ACCESSWIRE / May 21, 2020 / A research project started by a Pacific Northwest seafood company and a nonprofit group over coffee with researchers will get $295,800 in federal funding to continue its work. The collaborative survey data will help inform sardine stock assessments and improve the understanding of other coastal pelagic species such as herring, anchovies and mackerel.

Ocean Gold Seafood, based in Westport, Wash., was awarded a Saltonstall-Kennedy grant on behalf of the West Coast Pelagic Conservation Group to continue a collaborative project that will benefit the seafood industry and scientific data collection process. The grants, commonly referred to as S-K grants, are used to fund projects that address the needs of fishing communities, optimize economic benefits by building and maintaining sustainable fisheries and increase other opportunities to keep working waterfronts viable. The survey includes industry vessels and National Marine Fisheries Service and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife researchers and personnel.

“We learned a lot though this collaborative process,” Ocean Gold Chief Operations Officer Greg Shaughnessy said. “The survey itself is an intricate and energized dance of scientific procedures all happening in real time and at once. The team is professional. I have fished over 50 years, but I learned more about the sardine and other coastal pelagic species than I ever imagined.”

The F/V Lisa Marie is seen in the background beyond the NOAA R/V Reuben Lasker during a collaborative sardine survey in 2019.
Photo credit: Dr. David Demer/NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center

Shaughnessy said the survey was necessary to access some areas nearshore.

“The coastal pelagics industry realized we needed a boat on the water to help assess the shallower areas that the deeper draft federal research vessels couldn’t access,” Shaugnessy said. “We all had open minds and worked together with state and federal scientists to acquire the best available data for the sardine stock assessment.”

The project, “Utilize an Industry-Seine Fishing Vessel to Enhance Data Collection and Improve Assessment of Pacific Coast Coastal Pelagic Species for the Benefit of the Fishing Industry and Fishing Communities,” builds on past proof-of-concept research projects in which the West Coast Pelagic group started to help assess the nearshore stocks. These shallower areas are habitat for large volumes of sardines and other pelagic fish.

Industry investigators use the F/V Lisa Marie, locally owned by Andy Blair. The vessel has a sophisticated echosounder (a type of sonar) to record schools of fish in the nearshore areas. Then researchers use the vessel’s purse seine net to capture a portion of the fish in the same area. WDFW biologists sample species for length, age and sex data from a 20-pound selection of each seine set and release the rest of the fish unharmed. The Lisa Marie surveys established nearshore transects from the U.S./Canadian border to northern California throughout the summer and fall in conjunction with the NOAA research vessel Reuben Lasker doing similar work in deeper waters.

The F/V Lisa Marie is seen through the trawl gantry of the R/V Reuben Lasker during a collaborative Sardine survey in 2019.
Photo credit: Dr. David Demer/NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center

“This complements what the NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center is doing offshore,” Pacific Seafood consultant and West Coast Pelagic board member Mike Okoniewski said. “It is a good model. We hope to build on more activities like this in the future. This kind of collaboration builds trust on both sides.”

The improved science can help the industry by improving fleet and processor operational efficiencies through better planning, which builds and stabilizes markets. Incomes from the fish sales and vessel activities feed into coastal communities. The sardine fishery off Washington and Oregon has been closed in recent years; this collaborative research will help inform stock assessments by recording the biomass of fish in the shallow areas.

Both Shaughnessy and Okoniewski noted the project could not have moved forward without the support of state and federal fishery scientists, managers, and biologists: Dr. Cisco Werner, National Marine Fisheries Service Director of Scientific Programs and Chief Science Advisor; Kristen Koch, SWFSC Science and Research Director; Dr. David Demer, Leader of the SWFSC Advanced Survey Technologies Program; Lorna Wargo, WDFW Coastal Marine Fisheries Manager (principal investigator), and Dr. Theresa Tsou, WDFW scientist. Andy Blair and his son Rick are the respective owner and captain of the F/V Lisa Marie.

Okoniewski recalled the start of this project six years ago. “Greg, Andy and I and met Cisco in Seattle over coffee to discuss ways industry and the science community could work together,” Okoniewski said. “Andy offered Cisco the use of his boat. There were some bumpy starts but thanks to a lot of effort from many outstanding individuals, we have a work product that can be a model for many fisheries. Moreover, they help ensure the long-­­­­­­term heritage of our fishing communities and protection of our fishery resources.”

Others who helped promote the project include numerous Pacific Northwest congressional members and staff, NOAA SWFSC scientists and crew who took the time to work with industry to sort out the kinks, the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Environmental Defense Fund and the West Coast Seafood Processors Association.

More information

West Coast Pelagic Conservation Group: The WCPCG is a non-profit coalition of fishermen and processors based in Westport, Wash. The group’s goal is to encourage, promote, conduct and support scientific research regarding pelagic fish; promote sustainable commercial fisheries for pelagic fish, and to educate public and government officials about the value of commercial fisheries for pelagic fish.

Ocean Gold Inc.:

Pacific Seafood Group:

Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program:

Fiscal Year 2020 S-K funding projects:

Mike Okoniewski
Pacific Seafood/West Coast Pelagic Conservation Group Board

SOURCE: West Coast Seafood Processors Association

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