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Woods Hole Field Center-NMFS Second Joint Benthic Habitat Cruise on Georges Bank

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The USGS and NMFS conducted a second joint cruise to Georges Bank aboard the NOAA research vessel Albatross IV from July 6-10, 1999. The first cruise (June 2-11) surveyed Closed Area II on southeastern Georges Bank. The latest cruise was to Closed Area I on western Georges Bank (the Great South Channel region) where the USGS conducted a multi-beam mapping survey of 225 nm2 in late 1997. This area has been closed to all fishing for 4.5 years since December 1994 for the purpose of conserving important commercial ground-fish species such as cod, haddock, and yellowtail flounder. During this time, the sea scallop population has rebounded, and Closed Area I will be surveyed for scallop distribution and abundance later this year, with the possibility of opening the area for scalloping early next year.

The purpose of the cruise was: 1) to survey the benthic infauna and ground fish in a range of gravel and sand habitats and bottom current conditions in depths of 65 to 100 m; and to compare the geology and biology of undisturbed benthic habitats within the closed area with disturbed habitats that lie along the margins outside of the closed area where trawling and dredging have been permitted all along. Data collected included video and photo transects, sediment samples for analysis of texture, benthic infauna, and organic chemistry, and bottom trawls for ground fish. Early results show that ground fish are significantly more abundant within the closed area, as are scallops, and that there has been heavy habitat disturbance outside of the closed area.

Cruise participants included Page Valentine and Ken Parolski (WHFC) and fisheries scientists from the NMFS Northeast Region labs at Sandy Hook, NJ, and Woods Hole, MA. NMFS Division Chiefs Steve Murawski and Jeffrey Cross (Chief of Essential Fish Habitats Program) participated and remarked on the importance of the USGS multi-beam imagery to current and future studies planned for the Great South Channel Region. In addition, Jim Kendall (New England Fishery Management Council) and Tony Chatwin (science advisor to the Conservation Law Foundation) took part in the survey and were especially interested in images provided by the USGS video/photo and bottom sampling system (the SEABOSS). The USGS Van Veen grab-sampler outperformed the NMFS Smith-Mac samplers to the extent that NMFS is going to change their long-held strategy for obtaining benthic infauna samples. The Woods Hole Field Center will provide them with the working drawings for the system. Jason Lulchuk, a videographer from the National Center for Science Literacy at the American Museum of Natural History in New York documented the onboard activities and will use USGS video imagery of the seabed for a program dealing with habitat and fishery issues.

This is the second time this summer the USGS and NMFS have undertaken a joint project in the New England region that focuses on the impacts of fishing gear on essential fish habitats. There is interest in following up these surveys with an additional cruise to Closed Area II on eastern Georges Bank this fall.

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