Given the Right Tools, Fishermen Perform Data Collection

by Laurie Schreiber


The project’s approach
is expected to increase
the transparency of
the assessment process.


PORTLAND—Given the right data collection and reporting tools, lobster and Jonah crab fishermen have been a big boost in collecting data needed for fishery management.

Speaking at the 11th International Conference on Lobster Biology and Management—hosted in Portland from June 4-9 by the University of Maine and Boston University—Anna Malek Mercer, director of the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation in Saunderstown, R.I., discussed the Lobster & Jonah Crab Research Fleet. Established in 2013, 15 fishermen have participated in the Research Fleet, collecting biological data from over 85,000 lobsters and 30,000 Jonah crabs, as well as bottom water temperatures from the Gulf of Maine to the Mid-Atlantic. The data collected by the Research Fleet are integrated into federal biosample databases and used extensively in the lobster stock, according to Mercer’s abstract on the topic. Previously, despite the economic and cultural importance of the lobster and Jonah crab fisheries, data used to assess these stocks lacked sufficient spatial and temporal coverage, particularly in Southern New England. Specifically, there was a mismatch between the location of primary lobster fishing grounds in this region (10-200 miles offshore) and the location where data were being collected (0-3 miles from shore). Research Fleet participants use a specialized tablet app, digital calipers, and wireless water temperature sensors to record information about their lobster and Jonah crab catch and the environment as part of their routine fishing practices. Differing from many other sampling programs, the fishermen that participate in the Research Fleet retain ownership of their data and regularly receive personalized data reports. Ultimately, the project’s approach is expected to increase the transparency of the assessment process and promote the fishing industry’s trust in the data sources being used and resulting management measures.

At the conference, Mercer explained that the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation is a nonprofit founded by a board of commercial fishermen with the goal of conducting collaborative fisheries research.

The fleet has been collecting lobster biological data since 2013, from both their own commercial gear and from ventless traps provided to the fishermen. In 2014, the fleet added the collection of Jonah crab data to feed into the development of the management plan for that fishery.

Over the past 18 months, the fleet has also been working with Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries to do a sexual maturity analysis on Jonah crabs, in order to understand what at what size they’re sexually mature. Research is conducted from the Gulf of Maine to New Jersey, in offshore waters.

“Fishermen use our app to randomly select which gear haul to sample, either throughout their day or their trip,” she said. “They enter the data into the app. And when they return to port, they upload the data.”

The goal, she said, is to give fishermen the tools they need to contribute data.

“In areas where we’ve traditionally had zero data for lobster, we now have coverage,” she said. “Jonah crab sampling was added in response to the emergence of this fishery. We’re the only survey for Jonah crab sin the Northeast….This information provided the basis for the fishery management plan.”


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