• Quantifying fisher responses to environmental and regulatory dynamics in marine systems

      Watson, Jordan T.; Mueter, Franz; Haynie, Alan C.; Sigler, Michael F.; Sullivan, Patrick J. (2017-12)
      Commercial fisheries are part of an inherently complicated cycle. As fishers have adopted new technologies and larger vessels to compete for resources, fisheries managers have adapted regulatory structures to sustain stocks and to mitigate unintended impacts of fishing (e.g., bycatch). Meanwhile, the ecosystems that are targeted by fishers are affected by a changing climate, which in turn forces fishers to further adapt, and subsequently, will require regulations to be updated. From the management side, one of the great limitations for understanding how changes in fishery environments or regulations impact fishers has been a lack of sufficient data for resolving their behaviors. In some fisheries, observer programs have provided sufficient data for monitoring the dynamics of fishing fleets, but these programs are expensive and often do not cover every trip or vessel. In the last two decades however, vessel monitoring systems (VMS) have begun to provide vessel location data at regular intervals such that fishing effort and behavioral decisions can be resolved across time and space for many fisheries. I demonstrate the utility of such data by examining the responses of two disparate fishing fleets to environmental and regulatory changes. This study was one of "big data" and required the development of nuanced approaches to process and model millions of records from multiple datasets. I thus present the work in three components: (1) How can we extract the information that we need? I present a detailed characterization of the types of data and an algorithm used to derive relevant behavioral aspects of fishing, like the duration and distances traveled during fishing trips; (2) How do fishers' spatial behaviors in the Bering Sea pollock fishery change in response to environmental variability; and (3) How were fisher behaviors and economic performances affected by a series of regulatory changes in the Gulf of Mexico grouper-tilefish longline fishery? I found a high degree of heterogeneity among vessel behaviors within the pollock fishery, underscoring the role that markets and processor-level decisions play in facilitating fisher responses to environmental change. In the Gulf of Mexico, my VMS-based approach estimated unobserved fishing effort with a high degree of accuracy and confirmed that the regulatory shift (e.g., the longline endorsement program and catch share program) yielded the intended impacts of reducing effort and improving both the economic performance and the overall harvest efficiency for the fleet. Overall, this work provides broadly applicable approaches for testing hypotheses regarding the dynamics of spatial behaviors in response to regulatory and environmental changes in a diversity of fisheries around the world.
    • The reproductive biology and management of walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus) in the Gulf of Alaska

      Williams, Benjamin C.; Kruse, Gordon; Criddle, Keith; Dorn, Martin; Quinn, Terrance II (2018-08)
      Ecosystem-based fishery management (EBFM) entails treating resource allocation and management as elements of a comprehensive framework that accounts for ecological linkages. The goal of EBFM is to maintain ecosystem resiliency in a manner that provides for the services desired e.g., fishery catch, species abundance, economic viability. Historically fisheries have been managed on a per species basis with a general focus on increasing or decreasing harvest rates. This management strategy often excludes meaningful processes such as interactions with other species, environmental changes, and economic effects of management changes. One feasible path for implementation of EBFM is through enhancement of existing single-species fishery management models. Contemporary age-structured stock assessment models generally use an estimate of spawning stock biomass (SSB), i.e., the biomass of female spawning fish, to approximate stock reproductive potential (RP). This approximation inherently assumes a proportional relationship between SSB and RP. Maturity at age or at length is a key aspect of reproductive biology that is central to estimating both RP and SSB. As a sequential augmentation to a single species management model the relationships among body condition, population abundance, the probability of being mature, relative fecundity, and environmental correlates were examined for female walleye pollock Gadus chalcogrammus in the Gulf of Alaska. Maturity data were corrected for spatial sampling bias using a mixed-effects generalized additive model. Once corrected for spatial bias, relationships between maturity, ocean temperature, body condition, ocean productivity (in the form of chlrophyll-a), and population abundance were explored. Estimates of fecundity were updated through the processing of archived samples and were also examined with mixed-effects generalized additive models to explore relationships between the previously listed covariates. Multiple measures of RP were examined to explore differences between methods currently incorporated into the stock assessment and updated measures of total egg production and time varying maturity. Walleye pollock body condition is density-dependent, declining with population abundance. However, after accounting for the effects of length, age, location, year, chlorophyll-a concentrations, summer ocean temperature and sample haul, condition has a positive effect on the probability of a fish being mature. Similarly, condition has a positive effect on relative fecundity, after accounting for length, age, egg diameter, chlorophyll-a concentrations, winter ocean temperature and sample haul. A positive relationship is observed between depth-integrated summer ocean temperature and maturity and depth-integrated winter ocean temperature and fecundity. Chlorophyll-a concentrations have a dome shaped relationship with maturity, peaking at 2.3 mg/m⁻³, and a negative relationship with fecundity. Variations in body condition have a direct influence on the estimated RP of the fish stock through both differences in the maturation schedule and total egg production. Over some periods these updated estimates of RP differ from estimates of female SSB from the annual stock assessment. Alternative estimates of annual RP, particularly total egg production, may provide better estimates of annual reproductive output than spawning stock biomass. In addition, relationships to density-dependent and density-independent factors provide informative predictions that can be incorporated into stock assessment analyses. Inclusion of spatially explicit information for walleye pollock maturity has implications for understanding stock reproductive biology and thus the setting of sustainable harvest rates used to manage this valuable fishery. Additionally, because management decisions have economic as well as biological consequences a suite of management strategies were simulated to examine the economic viability of a proposed small-vessel walleye pollock fishery in Alaska state waters in the Gulf of Alaska. As a case-study for straddling stocks, an agent-based model was developed to examine a suite of available federal and state management strategies as they relate to the economic viability of a nascent Alaska state-waters trawl fishery for walleye pollock that may develop after a long history of parallel state and federal waters management. Results of alternative strategies were compared in terms of indicators, such as variance of catch and quasi-rent value. Given the input characteristics of these simulations, the management strategy that produces the best overall improvements relative to status quo involved a federal-waters management strategy that allows for community-based cooperatives and an open access strategy in state-waters. Agent-based models may be used to inform managers of the underlying dynamics of catches and revenues in order to avoid unintended consequences of management decisions and to improve the likelihood of attaining fishery management objectives. This dissertation provides incremental additions to our knowledge of walleye pollock reproductive biology its spatial and temporal dynamics, and environmental correlates that may serve as ecological indices. These indices, coupled with an improved understanding of the socio-economic examinations of fishery management changes through agent-based modeling, may assist in producing more holistic management strategies, such as EBFM.