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Science

Research

Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation

The Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation (BSFRF) is a non-profit research foundation voluntarily funded by both the crab harvesting and processing sectors as well as by fishery-dependent communities (http://www.bsfrf.org/). The BSFRF provides a forum for industry members, fisheries managers, and scientists to interact and work cooperatively in order to conduct scientific research that is specifically designed to expand the knowledge base for commercial Bering Sea crab stocks. Expanding and supplementing the available information on harvested crab species allows for improved sustainability and management of crab resources in the Bering Sea.

Research projects conducted through the BSFRF are integrated collaborative efforts and the scope of research and array of scientific partners has continued to grow each year. Extensive cooperation on research priorities, project design, planning, methodology, field research, analyses, and reporting are coordinated among multiple partners including researchers and managers from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), the University of Washington, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). The ultimate goal of the research projects undertaken is to assist in both determining and developing the best scientific approach for gathering and producing information (through improved stock assessments) for effective and sustainable management of the Bering Sea crab fisheries. Better research results in better management thereby ensuring the fisheries will be protected and preserved while simultaneously producing long-term sustainable yields.

Recently, the BSFRF was instrumental in coordinating the necessary research and data collection that allowed for a reduction in the snow crab handling mortality estimate used in the snow crab stock assessment model. In the eastern Bering Sea snow crab fishery, the discarded catch of snow crab (primarily small males) is approximately one-third of the total catch. Prior to 2013, the estimated mortality rate for this discarded catch was 50%, which was not based on any previous data or studies. The BSFRF was able to specifically hire and train fisheries observers to collect snow crab mortality data using a scientifically-validated approach based on a suite of reflex responses of crab captured during the fishery. From this work, the Crab Plan Team and Science and Statistical Committee revised the snow crab handling mortality estimate down to 30%. With all other aspects of the snow crab stock assessment model being equal, this change in estimated handling mortality resulted in an approximate 13% difference (increase) in the resulting acceptable biological catch (ABC) for snow crab.

Some of the other ongoing and past research projects conducted through the BSFRF include:

2011/2012 Bristol Bay Red King Crab Inshore Survey: Due to uncertainties regarding the distribution and abundance of red king crab inshore, the main goal of this research project is to improve understanding of the distribution of male and female red king crab outside of and near the edge of the standard AFSC eastern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey area in Bristol Bay.

2011 Snow Crab Growth Study: The main goals of this work were to collect pre-molt juvenile snow crab during the spring (when molting is known to occur), to transport the snow crab from the molting areas on the northwest Bering Sea shelf to holding facilities both at Dutch Harbor and at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center Kodiak laboratory, and to maintain the snow crab until molting occurred. The data from this experiment resulted in a prediction of post-molt carapace width from pre-molt carapace width, which was then used in the snow crab stock assessment model to improve the estimation of snow crab growth per molt within the model.

2010 Snow Crab Tagging: This research continued tagging and movement efforts, which started with red king crab, to understand adult male snow crab seasonal movements in the Bering Sea using archival tags.

2009/10 Eastern Bering Sea Tanner Crab Size Limit: This research focused on analysis of the minimum size limit(s) for eastern Bering Sea Tanner crab fisheries. The goal of this work was to evaluate the merits of a reduced minimum size limit(s) for the Tanner crab fisheries in the eastern Bering Sea. A number of important research questions were addressed as part of this work, including: the size of maturity of Tanner crab and how it has changed over time; the optimal size limit based on yield per recruit; the degree to which commercial landings, bycatch and discard amounts, and revenues change under a reduced size limit at varying levels of abundance; and how harvest rates should be modified under alternative minimum size limits.

Alaska King Crab Research, Rehabilitation, and Biology Program

Formed in 2004, the Alaska King Crab Research, Rehabilitation and Biology (AKCRRAB) Program is an Alaska Sea Grant partnership with regional fishermen's groups, coastal communities, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery and Chugach Regional Resources Commission, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences (http://seagrant.uaf.edu/research/projects/initiatives/king-crab/general/index.php). AKCRRAB was initiated to conduct a research program aimed at hatching and rearing wild red and blue king crabs in a large-scale hatchery setting. The mission of the program is to understand the large-scale culturing needs of wild red and blue king crab stocks, and to perfect strategies for hatching and rearing king crab to a stage where they can be released into the wild and contribute to reversing low wild stock abundance in Alaska. The ultimate goals of the program are to add to the scientific understanding of king crab life history and ecology and to rehabilitate depressed king crab populations throughout Alaska. The coalition of state, federal, and stakeholder groups views the efforts of the AKCRRAB program as important to the region's long-term economic development and sustainability.

Every year since 2007, king crab broodstock have been collected under permits provided by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery and UAF Seward Marine Center house and care for the adult broodstock and offspring. Hundreds of thousands of eggs from female king crab hatch in early spring, and the swimming larvae settle to become juveniles approximately two months later. AKCRRAB's team of production biologists, scientists, and graduate students has made great progress towards advancing the science and technology necessary to support hatchery production of juvenile king crab. Production biologists have achieved high survival rates for king crab (31% in 2013) and scientists and graduate students have conducted research on larval nutrition, rearing densities, and rearing temperatures. Work has also been done on juvenile crab nutrition, release strategies, substrate preference, and the development of genetic markers. Scientists involved in AKCRRAB research highlight their work each month in a newsletter called AKCRRAB News Flash, which can be found at http://seagrant.uaf.edu/research/projects/initiatives/king-crab/newsflash/index.php.

North Pacific Research Board

The North Pacific Research Board (NPRB) was created by Congress in 1997 to recommend marine research activities to the US Secretary of Commerce, supported by interest earned from the Environmental Improvement and Restoration Fund. The enabling legislation requires the funds to be used to conduct research on or relating to the fisheries or marine ecosystems in the North Pacific Ocean, Bering Sea, and Arctic Ocean (http://www.nprb.org/). To achieve its overall mission of building a clear understanding of North Pacific ecosystems, the NPRB must emphasize research designed to address pressing fishery management issues or marine ecosystem information needs and supports wide-ranging peer-reviewed scientific research in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands and Arctic Ocean to inform effective management and sustainable use of marine resources.

The Board is comprised of twenty members representing federal, state and other entities. The board receives advice from both an Advisory Panel and a Science Panel. The Board's recommendations on research proposals are subject to approval by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, whose authority is delegated to the Alaska Regional Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The Board relies upon input from external reviewers in addition to its science and advisory panels to fund the most meritorious science projects that address pressing fishery management and ecosystem information needs. Proposals are selected for funding through the annual research program or the long-term monitoring program. The NPRB also develops and implements multi-institution, interdisciplinary science projects under the integrated ecosystem research program to create a more integrated understanding of Alaska's ocean ecosystems. Additionally, NPRB administers a graduate student research award program that encourages students to pursue scientific and scholarly research that addresses management issues in northern seas.

To date, the NPRB has funded a total of 351 projects for a total of over $58 million awarded thorough its Annual Research Program (http://www.nprb.org/annual-research-program/about-the-program/). Projects touch on all aspects of Alaska's marine ecosystems. Since the development of the NPRB Science Plan in 2005, the annual Request for Proposals (RFPs) have been structured around specific research themes that address both pressing fishery management needs and marine ecosystem information needs. The full NPRB Science Plan can be found at http://www.nprb.org/assets/images/uploads/science_plan_nov05_low.pdf. Past, crab-specific, projects funded through NPRB include:

Essential Habitat for Pribilof Island Blue King Crab

Female Reproductive Output of Snow Crab in the Eastern Bering Sea

Retrospective Analysis of Kodiak Red King Crab

Quantification of Unobserved Injury and Mortality of Bering Sea Crabs Due to Encounters with Trawls on the Seafloor

Reduction of Bycatch Mortality for Non-target Crab Species in the Commercial Snow Crab Fishery

Evaluating Methods for Determining Overfishing Levels for Bering-Sea Aleutian Islands Crab Stocks

Mapping Tanner Crab Habitat in the Kodiak Area of the Gulf of Alaska

Development of Biochemical Measures of Age in the Alaskan Red King Crab: Validation, Refinement, and Initial Assessment

Research Priorities

As part of its regular duties, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council identifies priorities for research (with input provided by Plan Teams, the Scientific and Statistical Committee, and the Advisory Panel) as those activities that are the most important for the conservation and management of fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian Islands, eastern Bering Sea, and the Arctic. This listing of priorities serves two purposes: 1) to meet the requirements of the revised Magnuson-Stevens Fishery and Conservation Management Act (MSA) for all eight regional Councils to identify research that is needed in the next one to five years; and 2) to provide guidance and recommendations on research priorities to the broader research community and funding agencies. Research priorities are organized into four categories: critical, high, medium, and low.

The list of the Council's research priorities can be found at https://research.psmfc.org. Some of the crab-specific research items identified by the Council as having a high priority include:

Life History Research on Non-recovering Crab Stocks

Spatial Distribution of Male Snow Crab

Improve Handling Mortality Rate Estimates for Crab

Studies to Identify Crab Stock Boundaries

Effects of Trawling on Female Red King Crab and Subsequent Recruitment

Studies on Factors that Affect Catchability Particularly for King and Tanner Crab

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