By NOAA Fisheries.
Keeping shark populations healthy is an important part of ecosystem-based management for sustainable fisheries and resilient fishing communities. But getting the information needed to effectively manage Pacific sleeper sharks, salmon sharks, and other large Alaska sharks is challenging.
“Data on these sharks are hard to get. They’re so big! It’s not always possible to safely land or transport them back to shore for sampling,” said Cindy Tribuzio, NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center. “There is so much unknown. Every bit of new knowledge we can obtain makes a big difference to how we manage them.”
Alaskan fishermen are stepping up to help collect the data needed to better understand large sharks in Alaska waters. A collaborative project led by Tribuzio is innovating the use of electronic monitoring (EM) technology and machine learning to collect information from sharks incidentally caught by longline and trawl fishing vessels. As part of that research, fishermen are voluntarily taking biological measurements and samples.
“The information they are collecting will contribute to more accurate assessments and more effective management of shark populations,” Tribuzio said. “Ultimately, that means more stable, better-managed fisheries overall.”
“When Dr. Tribuzio asked that pollock fishery EM participants measure all sharks before discarding them, our vessel operators and crews agreed to try. Measuring the sharks, converting the lengths to weights, and recording the data in the vessel logbook was extra time and effort for all involved—but a big improvement to data quality. There was concern by some that it could present a safety hazard handling and measuring each shark versus just discarding it. Not only did they do this, but they also made the effort to actively collect additional biological data that couldn’t be collected otherwise,” said Julie Bonney, Executive Director, Alaska Groundfish Data Bank. “Fishermen are more committed to maintaining data quality and contributing to research that maintains sustainable fisheries than many people think. They rely on the ocean for their livelihoods and they are invested in maintaining it.”
The Power of Collaboration
The cooperative relationship among fishermen and scientists is dramatically increasing our knowledge of Alaska sharks. It’s also expanding EM capabilities and helping develop cost-effective technology to rapidly and efficiently analyze data.