NOAA Fisheries Cancels Three More Surveys Due to COVID-19 Risk

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NOAA Fisheries has announced the cancellation of three more research surveys due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this time off the U.S. East Coast.

The cancellations include annual resource surveys for sea scallop and Atlantic surfclam/ocean quahog, plus an advanced technology survey investigating the ocean’s mesopelagic layer—the “twilight zone.” To mitigate the impact from the loss of data from the two resource surveys, NOAA Fisheries will work with the New England Fishery Management Council and the the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which are responsible for the scallop and quahog fisheries (respectively). 

The third survey, a partnership between NOAA and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, will be deferred. It depends upon the deployment of the NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow to support a one-of-a-kind sampling unit, which the research team uses to investigate the ocean layer just below the maximum depth of light penetration. 

“These are difficult decisions for the agency as we strive to balance our need to maintain core mission responsibilities with the realities and impacts of the current health crisis,” wrote NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in a statement. “We have been rigorously analyzing various options for conducting cruises this year and are taking a survey-by-survey, risk-based approach. After much deliberation, we determined that there was no way to move forward with these surveys while effectively minimizing risk and meeting core survey objectives.”

NOAA Fisheries has also temporarily waived the requirement for Greater Atlantic Region permitted vessels to carry a fishery observer  through July 31. It had initially planned to resume the observer program on July 1, but given the evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic it has deferred the resumption of the observer/at-sea monitor program for another month. Under an emergency action taken in March, NOAA Fisheries regional divisions may waive observer requirements if they find that placing an observer on a vessel would be incompatible with local/state/national/company rules on social distancing and travel. 

The COVID-related survey cancellations have even broader scope in Alaska. In late May, the agency announced the suspension of the Aleutian Islands bottom trawl survey, the eastern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey, the northern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey, the Bering Sea pollock acoustics survey, and the Fall Ecosystem Survey – all of which play a significant role in managing some of America’s most valuable fishing grounds. As an alternative, NOAA will use unmanned surface vehicles to support the assessment for the key pollock fishery.

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