Sep 20 2010

Collaborative Sardine Research Program Concludes Aerial Summer Survey

Local Sardine Fishermen Collaborate with Scientists to Improve Knowledge of Natural Resource

San Pedro, CA, Sept. 20, 2010 – San Pedro fishermen Nick Jurlin on the FV Eileen and Robert Terzoli on the FV Maria T made their final point sets –fishing for science– just hours before the summer sardine research project ended and the fall directed fishery began, at 12:01 AM September 15.

Sponsored by California’s wetfish industry, the summer aerial sardine survey, whose purpose is to provide a minimum estimate of sardine abundance, documented sardine schools from Cape Flattery in Washington State to Southern California, encompassing the area around all of the Channel Islands, where sardines were plentiful.  But the project was unable to conduct point sets in Monterey due to persistent fog and uncooperative fish.

Despite this, the project accomplished its overall goal of conducting three replicates of the aerial survey.

“Three repetitions provide enough information to establish a variance,” said Dr. Doyle Hanan, retired senior marine biologist supervisor for Department of Fish and Game, who directed field operations in California. “This will reduce uncertainty and provide a more accurate estimate of sardine abundance.”

Conducted in cooperation with the Northwest sardine industry, the project covered 66 random transects in all, with 40 in California. Transects were scientifically pre-determined and flown at an altitude of 4,000 feet, extending from the coast out 35 miles, and staged at 15-mile intervals. The high-tech camera systems installed in or attached to the planes photographed the ocean surface with 60 percent overlap, providing seamless coverage. The cameras were equipped with a 24 millimeter lens, covering about a one-mile swath of ocean every 15 miles. The total area of the survey encompassed about 1,000 miles along the west coast.

The survey was conducted as a two-stage project: Stage 1 consisted of aerial surveys to photograph sardine schools visible on the ocean surface along transects.  Stage 2 consisted of ‘point sets’, where fishermen wrap and harvest sardine schools of various sizes, which are weighed and biological samples taken at the dock. The fishing activity also is photo-documented, and point set photos are used to correlate the volume of fish caught to the area measurement of schools identified in the aerial photos to develop a minimum estimate of absolute biomass.

In all, California fishermen harvested a total of about 1,238 of the 2,100 metric tons allocated for the summer research project in California. Twenty-six point sets on schools ranging from five – 75 tons met the stringent requirements for use in the survey.  Fishermen were required to capture 90-100 percent of the school, and the pilot was required to photograph the vessel approach to the targeted school as well as the capture process.

The good news is the research succeeded overall.  However, the forces of nature battled the project every step of the way in California. A perfect storm of problems thwarted the research project in the Monterey area. Although the fog lifted just long enough to accomplish transects, fishermen standing by to conduct point sets were stymied, first by the persistent marine layer, then by fish behavior — as the only sardines spotted in the bay were congregated in the shallows near Santa Cruz in schools too large to conduct valid point sets. The final blow came when the owner of United Flight Services was killed along with his son in a tragic plane crash on Labor Day weekend, grounding the planes the association had chartered before the end of the research period.

The first photo in this series shows FV Eileen approaching a sardine school near Santa Cruz Island. The second photo shows the process of wrapping the school.  Fish were weighed and biological samples were taken at the dock. Fish were processed at Tri-Marine and State Fish Companies at cost, and the proceeds will help to fund the research. Approximately 861 metric tons remaining in the research quota at the end of the project will automatically be added to the fall directed fishing quota.

The research was approved by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which issued Experimental Fishing Permits to selected vessels to participate in the harvest of sardines outside the open fishing period. The sardine industry initiated the summer sardine research in 2009 and expanded it into Southern California in 2010.

FV Eileen approaching sardine school

FV Eileen wrapping school

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