I am no expert on the West Coast salmon fishery, but I have learned a lot about it over the past year working with the Oregon Salmon Commission, Oregon State University, and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. What has been going on recently should be of interest to anyone who cares about this hardy, indigenous fish of the Pacific Northwest. Let me share some things I know.

A group of people got together a few years back and decided they could do much to foster a steady, sustainable salmon industry by applying principles of science and sound management, along with information transparency. The project they started, the Collaborative Research on Oregon Ocean Salmon (ProjectCROOS), was funded in June 2006 through the Oregon Legislature Emergency Board. ProjectCROOS is located at the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. Researchers, working in cooperative partnerships with Oregon salmon fishers, have been combining at-sea and laboratory research to develop refined spatial and temporal approaches for significantly reducing overfishing of weak salmon stocks and avoiding long term closures of the salmon fishery. This is done by collecting data on the fish caught, tying it in with genetic samples analyzed by scientists, and then making the data available back to scientists, fishers, and fishery managers in a timely fashion.

The full benefit of such fishery data is reduction in bycatch (fish not desired to be caught, such as weak salmon stocks or fish other than salmon), more efficient fishing trips, more productive yields within set quota limits, and a sustainable fishery. For the consumer, there are benefits as well, with information on individual fish caught being made available immediately after the fish is brought ashore. Restaurateurs can now know which fisher and vessel caught their fish and verify where they were caught, supporting such brands as Oregon Troll Salmon, and then pass this information along to their diners.

How did ProjectCROOS accomplish all this? Well, first it started working with the fishers directly, rather than scientists, to serve as at-sea researchers collecting the data onboard the vessel when they catch the fish. Information such as fish length, GPS catch location, and the vessel and captain’s name are recorded and then later entered into a database on shore through a convenient web portal. Scientists are still part of the ProjectCROOS team, analyzing fish samples (scale samples, otoliths, milt, and eggs) to determine sex, maturity, and stock (river of origin) and then entering their findings into the database.

Live caught fishery data has a special restriction on it, being protected by congressional law. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act was enacted in 1996 to conserve and manage the fishery resources found off the coasts of the United States and the anadromous species and Continental Shelf fishery resources of the United States. The law protects the confidentiality of the information submitted so that no one may access this information without authorization by its owner, — in this case the fisher who caught the fish. It does provide for the information to be made public if done in an aggregate or summary form that does not disclose the identity of the person submitting the information. The effect of this ruling is that the data is locked down and only accessible to those having authorization. Yet, if a fisher does want information on the fish to be made available (such as where the fish was caught), this can be done.

So I see a number of benefits for each member of ProjectCROOS:

  • Fishers – They can use the fishery data to support more effective management of their fishing operations. They can compute statistics like fish caught per unit effort or fish per trip. They can look at map overlays showing where fish were found at various times throughout the season. In the future, oceanographic and meteorological data will be available to overlay on top of the fishery data to help the fisher more effectively locate fish. The result will be less time spent fishing and less fuel consumed, resulting in lower labor and fuel costs and less pollution.
  • Fishery managers – They too can get valuable statistics to support their season projections and marketing plans, such as the number of fish caught per week, per month or per season.
  • State and federal regulators – They can use the data to assess fish caught against quota and monitor the fish to the stock level rather than just to the species level. This would benefit fishers by keeping the season open for abundant fish stocks, and only restricting the harvest of fish with weak stocks.
  • Scientists – They will have a vast array of information on the salmon, showing the number of fish caught, when they were caught, where the fish spawned, and where they were caught, besides information on fish age, size, and sex.
  • Public – The public is able to have much more visibility into the fish they are buying, not only ensuring that it is wildcaught, but learning first hand about the fisher who caught the fish. This information is available right now for select fish on the Pacific Fish Trax website.

The future looks bright for the salmon fishery in the Pacific Northwest. Through today’s technology we are able to help each member of the salmon fish community, — the scientists, managers, regulators, fishers, and the public, — get a better understanding of the fishery each season, and use this information to ensure there is an abundance of wildcaught salmon year after year.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box