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Science Programs

To learn more about ongoing research projects, click the links below: 

Atlantic Halibut and Atlantic Lobster Traceability Project

Cod Condition

Crab Pot Design

Gilbert Bay Cod

Green Crab Mitigation

Industry Post-Season Crab Trap Survey

Leatherback Turtle Model Tests New Disentangling Tool

Lobster

Reproductive Potential in Groundfish Species

Seal Diet

Sentinel (Fixed-Gear) and Mobile Surveys

Tagging Programs and Data Storage Tags

Wild Fisheries and Fish Farming Interactions - Connaigre Bay

 


 

 

Atlantic Halibut and Atlantic Lobster Traceability Project

 

Trace your plate! This project aims to address conservation challenges, improve marketability and increase the value of Atlantic Halibut and Atlantic Lobster fisheries in Newfoundland and Labrador. Click here to read more about the seafood traceability project.

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Cod Condition

Information about cod condition is a critical component of the assessment process and the objective of this project is to provide information about the condition of cod in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence (4R3Pn). 

Whole cod samples are collected throughout the fixed and mobile gear cod sentinel survey during January, February, and March.  Length, weight, sex, otoliths, maturity, liver weight, gonad weight, stomach contents, and tissue samples are collected and analyzed.

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Crab Pot Design

 

Over the last several years, snow crab stocks around many parts of Newfoundland and Labrador have declined in abundance.  In an effort to reverse this trend, the FFAW has partnered with DFO, DFA, and the Marine Institute to design a pot that reduces the catchability of undersized and soft-shelled crab thereby reducing the mortality of crab that are caught and discarded in the fishery.

Phase I of the study was undertaken to improve the size-selectivity of the Japanese-style conical pot used in the Newfoundland and Labrador snow crab fishery.  Phase II of the study focused on fishing trials of the two most promising designs and completion of a report outlining the findings of the investigation.

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Gilbert Bay Cod

 

In 2004, a project was developed to investigate the distribution of Gilbert Bay cod and provide information on fishing effort in areas adjacent to the proposed Marine Protected Area (MPA) in partnership with DFO and Memorial University.

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Green Crab Mitigation

The Green Crab (invasive species) research project has been ongoing since the species was first identified in Newfoundland waters in 2007. The project involves fish harvesters harvesting the crabs and collecting sufficient data to develop an effective mitigation plan and prevent further spread and impact of this alien invasive species. Fish harvesters continue to work with researchers from Memorial University of Newfoundland and Marine Institute, as well as both the provincial and federal governments, to better understand this species as well as mitigating its effects on the ecosystem and their fisheries.

To date, the project has provided a better understanding of the biology of the species, its effects on catchability and competition with lobsters, effects on eel grass beds, as well as removing large amounts of green crab from the ecosystem. The project also examines potential uses for the crabs, such as composting and fertilizer.

FFAW members continue to work on advancing knowledge and uses for the green crab, as well as educating the public on this invasive species that has taken hold in our waters.

Recent articles on the green crab mitigation project:

WINTER 2015 - The cockroach of the sea 

WINTER 2016 - Green crab mitigation efforts continue in Placentia Bay 

SPRING 2016 - Green crab - new approaches needed

FALL 2016 - Does the presence of green crab affect feeding behaviours and catchability of lobster

WINTER 2017 - A dangerous invasion - green crab have taken hold of Fortune Bay 

The effects of green crab on the environment - before and after invasion:

 

 

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Industry Post-Season Crab Trap Survey

 

The Industry Post Season Snow Crab Trap Survey is currently in its eleventh year. The snow crab survey started in 2003 and was developed in response to the need for an industry-driven, scientifically sound survey to acquire catch and effort, and biological information. 

Each of the crab management areas in 2J3KLNOPs and 4R were divided into survey blocks.  The fixed station (survey blocks) was designed to cover areas from deep within bays to outside 200nm.  Each year 88 vessels sample 1500 stations.

All survey sets are subject to 100% observer coverage; onboard are FFAW field technicians or Seawatch observers.

Data collected during the survey includes duration (or soak time), depth, shell condition, carapace width, carapace damage, BCD, missing leg count, and maturity. 

The catch and effort, and biological data collected from the survey are used to develop biomass indices for inclusion in the yearly assessment of 2J3KLNOP4R snow crab.

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Leatherback Turtle Model Tests New Disentangling Tool 

 

In a best-case scenario, any conservation efforts to decrease entanglements and unwanted catch will also benefit harvesters. It will ideally make fishing easier, safer and increase landed value.

 

Leatherback turtles become entangled in the haul up lines of fixed gear. Unfortunately these animals cannot reverse out of an entanglement situation. Leatherback turtles often get entangled around the head and front flippers.

Many Newfoundland and Labrador harvesters are already doing what is best: getting rope out of the upper 3-4 fathoms and untangling turtles. Many harvesters use leaded line to pull excess rope off the surface and to keep it from getting tangled in others’ boats and gear.

We wanted to understand how turtles become entangled and to test different types of tools for getting excess rope out of the upper water column and for untangling turtles. To do so, we needed to see an entanglement and manipulate the turtle and gear – something that is not possible with an endangered species. Instead we had a life-size model turtle built with moveable front flippers.

On March 6, 2017, a workshop was held at the flume tank at the Marine Institute to test different tools and fishing gear with the turtle model. We now have the ability to test different solutions to the vertical line entanglement problem (weighted buoy ropes, line cutting tools, and the turtle model)

It was an excellent initial look at the fishing gear, disentangling tools, and the turtle.

The workshop was part of a collaborative program with DFO Oceans to look at potential conservation benefits, in ways that also benefit Newfoundland and Labrador harvesters.

The key objective of the collaborative program was to test dehooking and line cutting tools for future use by harvesters.  As a result of the collaborative program with DFO, we now have found/selected the most efficient line cutting gear and have a model to tests various additional mitigation tools.

This program is led by FFAW fisheries scientist, Dr. Erin Carruthers in collaboration with Jennifer Janes of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, with contributions from Classic Machine Shop, the Canadian Museum of Nature, Wayne Ledwell of Tangly Whales, and Memorial University flume tank staff and scientific divers. Many thanks to harvesters Paul Kane, Kevin Hardy, Jim Chidley and all the other harvesters who contributed to this program.

 

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Lobster

 

In an effort to improve the understanding of lobster stocks, a lobster-monitoring project was developed and implemented in 2004 throughout Lobster Fishing Areas (LFAs) in Newfoundland and Labrador. The lobster project continues in 2014 and consists of two initiatives. First, FFAW lobster science log books are distributed to commercial lobster harvesters in the designated areas for their voluntary completion throughout the season.  Second, at-sea biological technicians collect information such as carapace length, sex, presence of berried females, v-notched females and bottom habitat. All data collected is fully incorporated into the Newfoundland Lobster Stock Assessment.

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Reproductive Potential in Groundfish Species

 

In 2004 a project exploring the reproductive potential of several ground fish species around Newfoundland and Labrador began.  Previous estimates of fecundity for cod in Newfoundland waters are 20 years old, and 40 years old for American plaice.  Updated fecundity data can improve estimates of the level of sustainable fishing mortality and time for recovery of depleted stocks.  The goal of the project has been to produce new fecundity estimates for several ground fish stocks and note if, or how, the estimates have changed over time. The data will also be used in the exploration of proxies for fecundity (such as liver and body condition). 

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Seal Diet

 

For many years it has been suspected that seal predation is a factor in the high mortality rate of cod around Newfoundland and Labrador.  Two species of seals, harp and hooded, are considered important within the context of seal predation on cod, their prey and other groundfish in Atlantic Canada.

Understanding the diet of harp and hooded seals in offshore areas (most seal sampling occurs in nearshore areas, where the majority of the population never enters) is critical for estimating the amount and type of prey consumed.

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Sentinel (Fixed-Gear) and Mobile Surveys

 

Since 1994 and continuing to the present, fish harvesters from around the province have been participating in cod sentinel surveys. Participants fish under systematic, well-defined and rigorous scientific protocols. The primary objective of the program is to collect information on stock trends, but information is also collected that contributes to the study of the distribution, migration, condition, and age of fish, as well as providing information on water temperatures.

There are currently 74 fishing enterprises involved with the fixed gear sentinel program around Newfoundland and Labrador, and there are four mobile gear vessels conducting a bottom trawl stratified random survey in 4R3Pn.

The sentinel program started in 4R3Pn in 1994 and in 3Ps in 1995. Later that year and into 1996, it expanded to include 2J, 3K and 3L. This program was instrumental in building scientific collaborations between fish harvesters, fisheries scientists and resource managers.  

The sentinel data time series has been established and data collected is fully incorporated into the cod stock assessment.

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Tagging Programs and Data Storage Tags

The 4R3Pn Cod, 2J3KL3Ps Cod, Lumpfish and Atlantic Halibut Tagging programs provide valuable information about distribution, abundance of species, tracks growth rates, migrations patterns, and spawning behavior.

DST (Data Storage Tags) is a small electronic device that records temperature, depth and time at 15 minute intervals for years. It is inserted in the body cavity of cod by trained FFAW staff and fish are set free. 

Atlantic Halibut

The Atlantic Halibut resource in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has increased dramatically in recent years.  The Atlantic Halibut tagging is used to collect reliable scientific data to ensure we maximize the return to harvesters and their communities without impeding growth in the stock.

Information collected: halibut distribution, migration, growth rate and condition. Biological samples (i.e. otoliths, gonads, etc.) from both commercial and sub-commercial sized fish are collected.  Information collected through the tagging will be used in the scientific assessment process.

The total number of Atlantic Halibut tagged in the Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence is 7,559.

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Wild Fisheries and Fish Farming Interactions - Connaigre Bay

 

The objective is to determine if there are measurable impacts caused by the introduction of fish farming, negative or positive, on the commercial species currently harvested in Connaigre Bay.

Conducting a multi year survey (snow crab and lobster) to compare scientific data (abundance and distribution) before, during, and after the establishments of the farm sites.  There is a unique opportunity to study the environmental interaction and possible impacts in a bay that has never been used before in aquaculture. 

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