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Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Fishery Resource Analysis and Monitoring FRAM - Groundfish Ecology


Bycatch Reduction Engineering Research
Bycatch Reduction Engineering Research
Through key regional collaborations with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, and the fishing industry, the Marine Habitat Ecology Team at the NWFSC has been able to pursue a wide-ranging array of conservation engineering projects relevant to reducing bycatch in the west coast groundfish and ocean shrimp trawl fisheries. Examples of types of research projects pursued during any given year include: 1) Reducing Chinook salmon, eulachon, rockfish, and Pacific halibut bycatch in midwater and bottom trawl fisheries using Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs), 2) Examining selectivity characteristics of codends that differ in mesh size and configuration in bottom trawl fisheries, and 3) Testing other novel bycatch engineering modifications to mobile and fixed gears. Much of our current work has been in response to the fishing industries concerns over catches of overfished and rebuilding rockfishes and Pacific halibut allocated in the Pacific coast Groundfish Trawl Rationalization Catch Share Program. The trawl rationalization program, starting in January 2011, established formal Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) and individual catch share quotas. In addition to ACLs, fishing opportunities may also be limited by hard caps or IBQs for non-groundfish species (e.g., Chinook salmon, and Pacific halibut). Bycatch of overfished and prohibited species in the west coast groundfish trawl fishery has the potential to constrain the fishery such that a substantial portion of available harvest may be left in the ocean. Ongoing successes in rebuilding of groundfish stocks will likely create new challenges and needs as the fishery evolves.

Research Themes

Recovery and rebuilding of marine and coastal species
The Pacific Northwest is home to several iconic endangered species, including Pacific salmon and killer whales, and several rockfish species. Mandates such as the Endangered Species Act, MagnusonStevens Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, grant NOAA Fisheries the authority to manage the recovery of depleted species and stocks. The NWFSC contributes to species recovery through research, monitoring and analysis, providing NOAA managers and regional stakeholders the tools and information they need to craft effective regulations and develop sustainable plans for recovery.
Sustainable, safe and secure seafood for healthy populations and vibrant communities
Effective fisheries management provides economic opportunities and ensures the long-term sustainability of fisheries and the habitats on which they depend. The NWFSC seeks to improve the quality and quantity of data used in stock assessments, the methods for assessing stocks and ecosystem sustainability within the context of human modification of the environment. The NWFSC also provides state-of-the-art science and technology to support aquaculture while protecting and maintaining ecosystem health. Further, pathogens, toxins from harmful algal blooms (HABs), chemical contaminants and other stressors of marine ecosystems pose significant risks to health of both seafood resources and to humans. The NWFSC focuses on research to improve understanding of those risks, how to forecast them, and identify means to mitigate their impacts.

Research Foci

Describe the relationships between human activities and species recovery, rebuilding and sustainability
Human activities play a major role in determining the status of species and stocks. Rebuilding and recovery therefore need to address how these activities affect their status. At the NWFSC, biophysical modeling is used to link specific human activities such as land use and pollution to habitat conditions, and then to link these conditions and other activities to particular life stages. These models can be used to quantitatively assess how human activities influence species abundance, productivity, distribution and diversity. Not surprisingly, altering human activities in some way is often necessary for species or stock recovery and rebuilding. It is therefore important to understand the socio-economic effects of alternative management structures. Gathering data on their economic costs and social impacts helps identify actions that are cost-effective. These actions will need to be resilient to potential changes in climate throughout the region. Research on how humans react to management strategies helps policy makers avoid those that lead to unintended consequences that can hinder rather than help recovery.
Provide scientific support for setting annual catch limits and measure results of annual catch limit implementation
Effective fisheries management is dependent upon reliable estimates of current stock status and projections of likely future status. Work in this area focuses on several key research components. The first goal is to improve stock assessments and applications. NWFSC stock assessment scientists are currently using and developing state-of-the-art data collection and assessment methods. Priority research in this area includes continuing improvement of existing methods, development of methods for data-limited species and making these high-end techniques readily available to assessment scientists around the world. A second priority is to improve data for stock assessments. Stock assessments rely on both fishery-dependent and fishery-independent information. NWFSC scientists are involved in designing and implementing surveys, improving and enhancing data collection methods, including developing advanced technologies for ocean sampling, and evaluating the results of those surveys. Annual surveys are conducted to collect data on targeted species, habitats and ecosystems; the data are vital inputs to mathematical models used to inform management decisions. Third, NWFSC scientists measure and estimate fishery-related mortality for bycaught and discarded species. Reliable estimates of the numbers and distribution of non-target species affected by the fishery is a critical component of effective fisheries and protected resource management in the short-term (within season management measures) and long-term (e.g. restricted area definition). Scientists develop and improve data collection for this purpose, as well as improve analytical methods for estimating this catch.
Support collaborative community-based data collection, dissemination, and analysis for fishers, fisheries management, science, marketing, seafood safety, and education
Data are no longer the sole province of the agency. As technologies advance, fishers are collecting and analyzing fleet data in near real time. Data collected by fishers are used by the fishing community to reduce bycatch, allocate fishery impacts, and trace products through the processing and marketing system. Fisher-collected data, in combination with survey and oceanographic data, satellite remote sensing, economic data, and sociocultural data provide improved understanding of fish stocks, fishing, and the near-shore ecosystem. Collaborative efforts increase the quantity and quality of data available to the agency for scientific analysis, modeling, fishery management, and conservation. Through cooperation with the science and management agencies, the fishing community stands to gain more control and flexibility of their fishing operations, including the potential for improved economic efficiency. Increased availability of fisheries data creates opportunities for education and outreach both in the school system and to the general public. Further, well-informed local leaders conversant in the latest fishery issues will help garner local support and fisher buy-in for improved information sharing. The NWFSC will work with industry groups to improve distributed data collection, compilation, and distribution for multiple uses in fisheries, management, science, marketing, and education.
Support effective catch share management and evaluation
Catch share programs use allocations of target and by-caught species to individuals, with the goal of improving the safety and profitability of the fishery while reducing environmental impacts, particularly with respect to bycatch. This type of Individual Transferable Quota program was implemented for the West Coast Groundfish fishery in 2011. While the catch share program itself is a management construct, evaluating its effects and providing key information about immediate harvest and bycatch status are science issues. Research to support this catch share program falls within four areas. First, identifying cost-effective monitoring systems is imperative. Currently, the West Coast groundfish fishery requires 100% observer coverage. Determining whether an electronic monitoring program that meets scientific, management, enforcement and fishery information needs and is cost-effective is a key priority. In collaboration with industry, states and fishers, NWFSC scientists are currently designing monitoring systems, evaluating their effectiveness and assessing trade-offs in information quality and costs for these programs. Second, catch share programs are designed to provide individual accountability and flexibility and increase the overall profitability of the fishery. Determining to what degree these goals are achieved, how changes are made and their impacts on fishing communities is a key element of improving management in the long-term. Third, NWFSC scientists are evaluating the biological, ecological and social impacts of the catch share program. As a result of increased flexibility, catch shares programs are also anticipated to alter human interactions with the ecosystem, in the timing of fishing activities, fishing intensity on at least some species, and potentially on the location of fishing activities. Any of these changes are likely to have cascading effects on the status of stocks and the systems upon which they depend. The NWFSC is actively working with NOAA and academic scientists to evaluate these effects. And last, it is important to improve data delivery systems for management. To provide the flexibility and accountability that a catch shares program promises, data must be available to fishers and managers in near-real-time. NWFSC scientists are working to improve existing database systems and add novel components allowing greater accessibility to data.


bycatch reduction
bycatch reduction device
device to reduce bycatch of non-target species


None associated


Genus Oncorhynchus
Genus Sebastes
Species Hippoglossus stenolepis
Pacific halibut
Species Merluccius productus
North Pacific hake, Pacific hake, Pacific hake, whiting
Species Thaleichthys pacificus


Jon McVeigh
Internal Collaborator
Mark Lomeli
External Collaborator
Ryan Shama
Internal Collaborator
W. Wakefield
Principal Investigator