Alaska Fisheries Science Center 2020 Year in Review
A Look Back at Success in an Unprecedented Year
The Alaska Fisheries Science Center was able to accomplish a lot in FY 2020 despite the need to cancel some important field research and fish, crab and marine mammal surveys due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was a year of perseverance, creative thinking, and flexibility.
Our scientists took major steps to adjust the way we do business, protecting staff, communities and research partners while delivering critical science to support resource management and conservation efforts in FY20-21.
- Set up makeshift, home-based labs to conduct critical process studies to provide age and diet information to inform fish and marine mammal stock assessments.
- Employed innovative technologies to collect and more efficiently analyze data safely (e.g., sea going and aerial drones, artificial intelligence, remote camera and underwater acoustic monitoring systems, and sophisticated camera systems that simultaneously collect color, infrared, and ultraviolet images, etc.)
- Substantially overhauled standard operating procedures to work with fisheries observer provider companies to deploy Federal fisheries observers on fishing vessels and in seafood processing facilities to collect needed data so fisheries could continue to operate and provide seafood to the nation and the world throughout the pandemic
- Designed new modeling approaches to estimate fish and crab abundance to account for data limitations due to some cancelled surveys and research activities
- Provided critical socio-economic analyses of COVID-related impacts on the commercial and recreational fishing industries
- Increased collaboration with research, co-management and industry partners to monitor and collect data safely for bowhead whales, humpback whales, harbor seals, gray whales, Steller sea lions, northern fur seals, California sea lions, and commercially valuable pollock, red king crab and sablefish
- Organized and safely supported a major ecosystem survey in the Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea during the pandemic
- Completed a successful environmental DNA (eDNA) proof of concept in the inshore waters around Juneau, AK
- Enlisted the help of state and academic scientists, Alaska Indigenous communities, private companies and others to collect ecosystem information and provide critical context for resource management decisions this year
Auke Bay Laboratory
Scientists at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Auke Bay Laboratories study commercially important fish species such as rockfish, sablefish, and salmon. They conduct research to better understand where fish live during each stage of life and pinpoint what makes them unique, down to their DNA. They also examine marine ecosystems that are essential fish habitats, focusing on ocean processes and chemistry, and food web interactions that impact fish survival.
Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis
The Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division (FMA) monitors groundfish and halibut fishing activities in the federal fisheries off Alaska and conducts research associated with sampling commercial fishery catches, estimation of catch and bycatch mortality, and analysis of fishery-dependent data. We are responsible for training, briefing, debriefing, and oversight of observers who collect catch data onboard fishing vessels and at onshore processing plants and for quality control/assurance of the data provided by these observers. Division staff process data and make it available to the Sustainable Fisheries Division of the Alaska Regional Office for quota monitoring, and to scientists in other Alaska Fisheries Science Center divisions and at other agencies for stock assessment, ecosystem investigations, and an array of research investigations.
Marine Mammal Laboratory
The Marine Mammal Laboratory, a division of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, conducts research on whales, seals, sea lions, and porpoises off the coasts of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California. We collect data on marine mammal behavior, population dynamics, life history, migration patterns, distribution, and trends in abundance.
Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering
The Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering Division is a division of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. The division includes scientists from various disciplines: fishery and oceanography researchers, bioacousticians, engineers, technicians, and other specialists and support staff. Our scientists conduct research surveys and oceanographic studies to measure the distribution and abundance of commercially important fish and crab stocks in the eastern Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, and Gulf of Alaska. We also conduct various studies to learn more about the structure and function of Alaska’s marine ecosystems, and what environmental and climate conditions are necessary to keep fish and crab populations healthy. Because survey data are collected regularly over many years, scientists are able to understand trends in fish and crab population abundance over time and study how marine habitats and ecosystems change. Together with the commercial fishing industry, we are also exploring technological solutions or methods to help reduce bycatch and bycatch mortality.
Approximately 12,000 to 15,000 people visit the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Kodiak Laboratory each year. The Laboratory is located in the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center owned by the Kodiak Island Borough. Scientists for both Shellfish and Groundfish Assessment Programs conduct field and laboratory research on the abundance and distribution of marine invertebrate and fish populations, their life history, population dynamics, habitats, ecological interactions, and impacts of human activities such as bycatch, discard mortality, and habitat alteration. In addition, scientists at the Kodiak Lab provide information necessary to conserve, protect, and manage economically important Alaskan shellfish resources, including king, Tanner, and snow crabs, for the benefit of the nation. The laboratory also serves as a field office for the Center’s Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Program (FMA), the Alaska Regional Office of the Sustainable Fisheries Division and port samplers from the Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) occupy space within Kodiak Lab.
Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Newport Laboratory is home to the Center’s Fisheries Behavioral Ecology Program. The Laboratory is part of the Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. Scientists conduct research on the biological responses of commercially important marine fishes and crabs to environmental factors. These environmental factors affect distribution, growth, and survival from egg to adult. Research also focuses on defining the factors affecting post-capture survival and mortality of fish that are caught as bycatch. The experimental laboratories consist of more than 17,000 cubic feet of tank space housed in over 18,000 square feet of wet laboratory space supplied with 500 gallons per minute of high quality seawater. The laboratory is among the few laboratories in North America that has capability to conduct experiments in a controlled Arctic environment maintaining seawater temperatures as low as 1.5°C below zero. Other specialized facilities include networked cameras and infra-red lighting systems for observation of fish behavior, automated CO2 control culture systems, and the Marine Lipid Ecology Analytical Laboratory. Species of current interest include Pacific cod, walleye pollock, sablefish, northern rock sole, yellowfin sole, Pacific halibut, snow crab, Tanner crab, and Arctic cod.
Resource Ecology and Fisheries Management
The Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Resource Ecology and Fisheries Management Division produces groundfish and crab stock assessments annually. These assessments are used by resource managers at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to set catch quotas and other management measures for commercial and recreational fisheries in Alaska. We also produce economic and ecosystem assessments used to inform fisheries management decisions.