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The Importance of Conducting Groundfish Surveys

March 04, 2024

Biological and environmental data collected from the summer and fall groundfish surveys provide critical information to stock assessors and researchers.

A white research vessel with a large crane arm hanging over the side and numerous orange baskets on deck sits in the water, moored on a concrete dock The Oregon II is used for fisheries, plankton, and marine mammal surveys within the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Hannah Shahmoradi

About the Survey

A scientist in a hard hat and life vest stands near a white cylindrical cage with scientific equipment within it on the deck of a research vessel at sea
General Vessel Assistant, Connor Rauch, getting ready to deploy the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) instrument. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Hannah Shahmoradi

Every year, NOAA Fisheries, in collaboration with the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program, conducts surveys of groundfish (bottom-dwelling fish and invertebrate species) in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. These research expeditions take place twice a year, during the summer and fall, covering waters from Dry Tortugas, Florida to Brownsville, Texas. Some of the most common species seen on this survey include red snapper, northern brown shrimp, Atlantic croaker, pinfish, and many others! 

We have been conducting the summer survey since 1982 and the fall survey since 1986. We sample nearshore and continental shelf areas ranging from 5-60 fathoms (9-110 meters) in depth. Species abundance and distribution data from groundfish surveys are used in stock assessments of approximately 20 species, including three shrimp species (brown shrimp, white shrimp, pink shrimp), red snapper, and gray triggerfish, among others. Biological and oceanographic data are also used to monitor the health of the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico (e.g., coastal hypoxia). 

Some of the data collected on this survey are: 

  • Biological: Catch composition, abundance, weight, sex and maturity 
  • Environmental: Air temperature, barometric pressure, surface water temperature, wind speed, and wind direction
  • Water column profile: Temperature, conductivity (salinity), depth, transmissivity, dissolved oxygen concentrations, fluorometry

So why should we all care about this survey and the valuable information that it provides? Species abundance and distribution data from the groundfish (and other) surveys provide valuable inputs into the stock assessments of many managed species. These assessments are then used to inform management and policy decisions. Environmental data collected from the water column helps researchers assess the long-term health of the Gulf ecosystem, including the impacts of natural and anthropogenic disturbances.

A white basket is filled with brown shrimp
Northern brown shrimp (Farfantepenaeus aztecus) from our first trawl station. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Hannah Shahmoradi

“We’re trying to look at the overall health of the Gulf of Mexico in terms of the diversity of species,” says Alonzo Hamilton, fisheries biologist and field party chief of the fall groundfish survey. “The health of the Gulf is reflected in the critical data we gather from these organisms during the survey.”

We’ll hear more from Alonzo and go into more detail on the data collection process soon. Stay tuned! 

Meet the Blogger

A girl smiles while driving a boat

Hannah Shahmoradi

Hannah Shahmoradi is a communications intern with the Directorate at NOAA Fisheries’ Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Miami, Florida. Hannah earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Science at the University of Maine in 2022, and is currently pursuing a Master of Professional Science degree in Marine Conservation at the University of Miami. Hannah’s research interests include social science and human dimensions in marine conservation, behavioral research on marine megafauna, and media development. Meet Hannah.

Last updated by Southeast Fisheries Science Center on March 22, 2024