Due to the uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the unique challenges those are creating for NOAA Fisheries, we are cancelling the remaining three research surveys in the Hawaiian Islands. The cancelled surveys include the following:
- Annual Hawaiian monk seal and sea turtle field season deployment and recovery (Northwestern Hawaiian Islands).
- Main Hawaiian Islands bottomfish survey.
- Main Hawaiian Islands corals assessment and monitoring survey.
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. Since March, we have been rigorously analyzing various options for conducting surveys this year and are taking a survey-by-survey, risk-based approach. After much deliberation, we determined that we will not be able to move forward with these surveys while effectively minimizing risk and meeting core survey objectives.
The Cancelled Surveys
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands monk seal and sea turtle survey and field effort is the primary data source for the Hawaiian monk seal annual stock assessment. Field teams measure and tag weaned seal pups, identify individuals, conduct beach counts of seals, remove marine debris, and conduct additional scientific and recovery efforts to protect the Hawaiian monk seal population. This year, some data will be acquired from partners who are located at the northern islands of Midway and Kure, but data will be limited for this year’s assessment.
The main Hawaiian Islands bottomfish video camera survey (BFISH) has been conducted annually by the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center since 2016. BFISH is a collaborative, multi-gear survey conducted by our researchers aboard NOAA ships along with local cooperative research fishers operating aboard small fishing vessels. It provides fishery-independent estimates of bottomfish abundance used in the deep-7 bottomfish stock assessment.
The main Hawaiian Islands corals survey is a partnership between NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and was planned as a “cruise of opportunity” following the cancellation (earlier this year) of the NOAA Ship Rainier’s trip to the Mariana Archipelago.
These cancellations follow similar difficult cancellation decisions of the ship-based work we had planned from April to July. NOAA Fisheries is continuing to assess the status of other surveys in all our regions. We are working through numerous survey scenarios relative to community pandemic safeguards and safe work practices so that we maximize the science available for fisheries management in this challenging year.