August 21, 2020 — The coronavirus pandemic has placed enormous pressure on all aspects of the Hawaiian community. In addition to the personal health and economic toll, it has hamstrung NOAA’s ability to perform annual surveys using their large research vessels to collect mission critical data. One such project is the survey of our local bottomfish resources. Normally, the 224 foot NOAA R/V Oscar Elton Sette would perform a significant share of the survey mission, but due to the unique challenges created by COVID-19, this mission (as most others nationally) has been cancelled.

In addition to the work done from the Sette, local bottomfishers, contracted through Lynker and our partner Pacific Islands Fisheries Group (PIFG), conduct hook-and-line sampling using a sampling design developed with PIFSC scientists. In a typical year, these cooperative research fishers conduct two-thirds of the overall sampling. This year they have stepped up to the plate and are conducting 100% of the sampling.
These small, open-deck fishing vessels, crewed by a small number of people, represent a much safer alternative to the large NOAA Ship. Nevertheless, all parties are taking every precaution to make sampling as safe as possible. Crews work as isolated units, self-evaluations with temperature checks are conducted each morning prior to departure, and masks are worn at all times.

While this partnership with the local community has always been important, this year it has been absolutely critical to the continued success of the survey. The effort has caught the attention of NOAA leadership, earning praise from Regional PIFSC Administrator Mike Seki, and Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere / Deputy NOAA Administrator, and serves as a model for successful operations during these increasingly challenging times.

As in years past, this data will be incorporated into the Main Hawaiian Islands Deep7 Bottomfish Stock Assessment, used by managers to set commercial catch limits for the fishery.

This successful effort has been led by a collaboration between NOAA’ Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, the Pacific Islands Fisheries Group cooperative, and Lynker. Lynker’s Project Manager, Forest O’Neill, has led our company’s collaboration with PIFSC, PIFG, and the outstanding vessel crews and observers in our collective efforts to complete this year’s survey in and around the main Hawaiian Islands.

Photo Caption: Capt. Mike Abe and crew member Riki Hun of F/V Ao Shibi IV with the day’s biosamples, four opakapaka, a lehi, and a hapuupuu. August 15, 2020 off Big Island, Hawaii (Photo by Lynker/PIFG observer Gary Shirakata).