Fishery interactions are a critical concern for marine mammal populations and ecosystem health worldwide. Growing conflicts between fisheries and populations of seals in the northeast U.S. spurred several meetings and studies to assess the perceived and actual cost of these interactions. Collaborative research partnerships are needed to better understand the intersections below the surface and seek solutions to avoid conflict between fisheries and the animals that prey upon those same fish, such as dogfish and seals.
On July 10, 2018 the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation announced a grant of $119,147 to support research that studies bycatch and depredation in sink gillnet fisheries in and adjacent to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
The research performed by local commercial fishermen, Center for Coastal Studies, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will allow for a better understanding of the interactions between gillnet fisheries and predators such as dogfish and seals. Based on a pilot study funded by the Marine Mammal Commission, the newly funded study will obtain video documentation of the fish species that seals and other predators consume to better predict foraging behavior near fishing vessels.
Using cameras fixed directly to fishing nets and an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV), fishermen and researchers will collect underwater imagery and behavioral data from predators that might interact with the fishery. Together they hope to analyze footage and images to better understand depredation, in which animals prey upon fish caught in fishing gear, which can lead to lost catches for fishermen and entanglement or injury for the animals. The footage collected and the study’s results will help commercial fishermen understand possible conflicts between gear and predators, including depredation and entanglement, by informing potential modifications to fishing practices.