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Title: CRUISE REPORT - NF-0903
Short Name: CRUISE REPORT - NF-0903
Status: Completed

The United States Virgin Islands' (USVI) Grammanik Bank, located to the south of St. Thomas, is the site of a multi-species spawning aggregation for economically important fish including yellowfin grouper, Nassau grouper, tiger grouper, and dog snapper. Fishing pressure at this suspected source of larval recruits prompted the US Caribbean Fishery Management Council (CFMC) in 2004 to close the bank yearly from February to April. A series of banks south of the USVI (St. Thomas and St. John) and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) provide similar habitats and spawning aggregation sites. Prior to the inception of this study, the biological and physical processes which drive production on these banks, the circulation connecting these banks, and the flows across these banks had not been quantified. As the 2004 management decisions were made in the absence of these data, regional Marine Protected Area (MPA) designations and temporary closures are presently based on professional judgment rather than quantifiable, defensible scientific information. In addition, meeting new annual catch limit (ACL) requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization has become a priority of the CFMC. However, data limitations preclude comprehensive stock assessments for most fisheries in the region.

To address these data gaps, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists from the Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) and the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) in Miami, Florida, working with scientists from the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) and Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) in St. Thomas, are presently conducting a multi-year, interdisciplinary research project utilizing the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster to conduct biological and physical oceanographic surveys of the Virgin Islands (VI) bank ecosystems and surrounding regional waters. The long-term sustainability of fisheries in the VI and surrounding regions will depend on a comprehensive understanding of regional spawning aggregations, larval transport, and overall larval recruitment in the study area.

This endeavor, titled the Coral Reef Ecosystem Research (CRER) program, is directed at answering one over-arching question:

How are the unprotected VI banks, MPAs such as the Hind Bank Marine Conservation District, seasonally closed areas such as Grammanik Bank, inshore areas and adjacent islands ecologically linked via regional reef fish larval dispersal, transport, and lifehistory patterns?

Data collected from this program will not only provide information on a data-poor region, but have the potential to address two specific needs identified through a comprehensive review process recently completed by SEFSC and CFMC. First, should fish stocks be delineated from individual island groups (e.g. Puerto Rico, St. Thomas/St. John, and St. Croix), from the US Caribbean, or from the broader Caribbean region? This interdisciplinary effort will provide information on the interconnectivity of fish populations and assist in this stock delineation. Secondly, indices of abundance have been identified as a critical component of the length-based assessment methods currently employed in the US Caribbean. However, regional indices are lacking, or in some cases nonexistent. CRER will serve to improve existing and generate new indices of abundance for the study area.

Catalog Details

Catalog Item ID: 24430
GUID: gov.noaa.nmfs.inport:24430
Metadata Record Created By: Sarah A O'Connor
Metadata Record Created: 2015-04-15 09:38+0000
Metadata Record Last Modified By: Lee M Weinberger
Metadata Record Last Modified: 2021-10-13 19:08+0000
Metadata Record Published: 2021-10-13
Owner Org: SEFSC
Metadata Publication Status: Published Externally
Do Not Publish?: N
Metadata Next Review Date: 2022-10-14