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Contact Information:
URI
Fisheries Center
University of Rhode Island
Kingston, RI 02881.
Phone: (401)874-5063.
Fax: (401)789-8930.
Research Overview

Some of the important issues in fisheries management in Rhode Island and the Northeast region are reducing the negative environmental consequences of certain fishing practices, offering economically viable solutions to help fishermen be better environmental stewards, and solving problems related to the growing trend of disease in the marine environment.


Research Projects

Gear / Cooperative Research

Gear research has been at the forefront among fisheries scientists for years. The elimination or reduction of unwanted bycatch continues to be a driving force in fisheries management, and fishermen and gear specialists are modifying equipment to reduce bycatch, increase profit, and reduce their carbon footprint.

Fishermen are the best sources for gear design ideas, but often have difficulties with developing a proof-of-concept project to obtain financial support for testing and analyzing the gear to provide the data that could lead to its acceptance for use in a management regime. The Fisheries Center continues working with fishermen to assist them in developing gear concepts and presenting encouraging preliminary findings to compete for research funding. The program will also take advantage of partnerships with institutions in Canada and the U.K. to utilize their cutting-edge technologies to test and observe gear underwater.

Recent projects include: [click on project titles for more details]

Reducing the Capture of Flatfish in Small Mesh Bottom Trawls Using a Recessed Sweep 30.5 cm (12 in.) Drop Chain Configuration
Several species of flatfish in the Southern New England (SNE) area have been assessed as overfished and in need of rebuilding. Many are targeted species in directed fisheries; others are bycatch/discard species, especially in the small mesh fishery in SNE for squid, (Loligo pealeii), butterfish (Peprilus triacanthus) and scup (Stenotomus chrysops); these species include summer (Paralichthys dentatus), winter (Pseudopleuronectes americanus), yellowtail (Limanda ferruginea) and windowpane (Scophthalmus aquosus) flounders. A modified fishing net (MFN) was designed using a standard bottom trawl squid net (SFN) with the addition of 30.5 cm (12 inch) extensions to the headrope and a 30.5 cm (12 inch) drop chain between the sweep and the footrope. This net was laboratory and field tested for its ability to reduce the capture of flatfish. A total of 48 successful comparative paired tows (96 total tows) were completed. After checking for vessel effects, a paired t-test was used to test for differences between the combined mean weight (catch by species) per tow (in kilograms) of the SFN and MFN. Results show a significant difference between mean weights per tow for summer, winter, yellowtail, fourspot (Paralichthys oblongus) and windowpane flounders. There was no significant difference between mean weights captured by the SFN and MFN for all three potential target species. The findings of this research indicate the 30.5 cm (12 in.) drop chain trawl net design has the ability to reduce the capture of flatfish while retaining target species in the small mesh fishery of Southern New England.

Use of the Topless Trawl to Eliminate Turtle Bycatch in the Flounder Fishery
The interaction between sea turtles and commercial trawl fishing gear in the east coast trawl fisheries has proven to be a major concern for fishermen and fisheries managers. Turtle excluder devices (TEDs) have been proven effective at reducing sea turtle bycatch in shrimp trawl fisheries historically known to catch sea turtles. An evaluation of the performance of the TED in the summer flounder fishery of southern New England and the mid-Atlantic was conducted during the summers of 2007 and 2009. The results of the 2007 study using the approved National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) TED against a control showed a significant reduction (35%) in the total weight summer flounder. There was no indication of a change in size selection in the TED equipped trawl, indicating the loss of summer flounder is a function of a loss of flounder out the TED opening. The results of the 2009 study comparing the previously tested TED against a northeast (NE) modified TED with leatherback opening showed an overall 13% improvement in retention of the targeted summer flounder catch. There was also no indication of change in size selection between the TEDs. In the economic impact assessment of the fishery an overall reduction in summer flounder catch of 27% has been used by NMFS. With so much loss of target species an alternative design to reduce turtle bycatch was designed.
Topless trawls have the potential for excluding turtles without affecting the catch of target species. In the summer of 2010, a study was performed that compared the catch of a standard summer flounder bottom trawl to a topless trawl. In the topless trawl design the square is removed from the trawl net and the headrope is set back into the upper belly. The experiment was carried out in the southern New England and Mid-Atlantic summer flounder trawl fishery. The results of the research indicated a 6% increase in summer flounder catch, but not a significant difference. There was no indication of a change in size distribution of the topless trawl, indicating that summer flounder of all sizes are retained by the trawl and respond to the lack of an overhang in the trawl similarly. Due to the identical catch of the standard and topless trawl, NMFS tested the topless trawls ability to exclude wild turtles.
The results of the wild turtle test indicated that a larger headrope then previously tested would exclude sea turtle bycatch. This new headrope design must now be tested in the summer founder fishery to test its catch efficiency. If results similar to the 2010 study are found, topless trawls can prove a valuable tool for fishermen in an effort to reduce sea turtle bycatch.

The Reduction of Butterfish and scup Bycatch in the Inshore Loligo Squid Fishery
In Rhode Island, Loligo squid is one of the most valuable commercial species and bycatch in that fishery includes scup (Stenotomus chrysops) and butterfish (Peprilus triacanthus). This project investigated the performance of a modified fishing net (MFN) on its ability to reduce the catches of butterfish and scup in the Loligo squid fishery in Southern New England. The MFN was a standard squid fishing net (SFN) equipped with a funnel and escape panel. Sampling was conducted in fall 2009 and spring 2010. The fall trips were utilized to alter the net design and the final net protocol was used in spring sampling. A total of 60 paired tows were completed with 37 conducted in the spring (used in the analysis). A paired t-test was performed on total weights of fish per tow to test for differences in catch weight between nets. For Loligo squid, the results indicate that there was no significant difference in catch weight of squid between nets. The one-tailed paired t-test was used for bycatch species. There was no significant difference for catch of scup discards and butterfish between nets; however, for catch weight of landed scup, there was a significant difference. The outcomes of this research indicate that the MFN reduced the capture of larger scup while maintaining catch of the target species, squid. However, it did not significantly reduce the catch of small scup and butterfish. Future work will involve the collection of underwater video to look at fish behavior in relation to the MFN.

Evaluation of Rhode Island fluke sector pilot program and implications for upcoming regional implementation
The overarching goal of this project is to leverage the RI fluke pilot program to provide stakeholders and policymakers with information on the likely effects of expanding sectors to the New England multispecies fishery. We will gather information on the economic, sociological, and biological performance of the RI program with the aim to facilitate fact-based constructive discussions about this management scheme. To meet this goal, the project has four objectives:
  1. Biological evaluation of sector allocation: examine the extent and the mechanisms through which sector vessels reduce bycatch and discarding, and how it compares with the non-sector vessels;
  2. Operational evaluation of sector allocation: characterize the fishing effort being applied by the sector and non-sector vessels in terms of choice of fishing areas, landing composition, and the timing of harvest and landing.
  3. Economic evaluation of sector allocation: examine the extent and the mechanisms by which sector fishermen enhanced their profitability, as well as the market impacts of sector fishermen on non-sector fishermen;
  4. Social evaluation of sector allocation: using data collected through surveys of sector and non-sector fishermen, examine the attitudes and perceptions of sector and non-sector fishermen relative to science and management issues that influence decisions and choices made by active fishermen.

Shell Disease

The projects funded through the New England Lobster Shell Disease Initiative have brought scientists from diverse disciplines together to uncover the cause, or causes, of lobster shell disease, and in the process, produce new knowledge about the American lobster throughout its range (Maine to New York). The 2010 Baird Symposium on lobster shell disease was designed to share information with the public regarding the research conducted and some of the results. The Fisheries Center will be producing a synthesis document in 2012 that will compile the completed research and results

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