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Delaney Kuehnel

University of Texas, El Paso

Research Mentor: Kate Richerson and Kayleigh Somers

Project: The Gear That Kept Going: Lost and Found Fishing Gear Along the West Coast

Hi! My name is Delaney Kuehnel and I am a Biology student at the University of Texas at El Paso.  This summer, I had the privilege to work at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center with Kate Richerson and Kayleigh Somers.  I worked in the Fisheries Resource Analysis and Monitoring (FRAM) division looking at fishing gear encountered and/or lost along the U.S. West Coast.  The data was originally taken from the West Coast groundfish observer program, in which some of their goals are to promote sustainable fishing and look at the economic impact as well.  Observers on these fishing vessels record anything from bycatch and discard rates, fishing activity, gear loss and interactions, and data on individual fish.  Over the years, consistent fishing gear recorded in hauls has opened new areas for research. Once fishing gear is lost to sea, it becomes inactive or derelict, but continues to fish.  This issue is known as ‘ghost fishing’, and poses a threat to marine animals as it floats through the water column or sinks to the ocean floor.  This also threatens the revenue for fisheries since commercially sold fish are entangled and die on the ocean floor.

For my project, I focused on gear loss and interactions observed along the West Coast. I was tasked with looking through logbook data to account for any lost sablefish pots and any crab pots encountered in the bottom trawl haul.  Each haul had a specific haul ID and the longitude and latitude were marked accordingly. After looking through the data for lost sablefish pots,  I then plotted the cumulative data from 2010-2018 on a map of the West Coast.  This showed the percentage of pots lost out of the total deployed over the course of 8 years in each area.  In the data for pots encountered, this was from bottom trawls where fishing vessels encounter either active or derelict pots in the nets.  Unfortunately, not all observed gear is recorded as ‘derelict’ or ‘active’, so sometimes it’s hard to know if it’s been there for days, years, or months – especially when you’re reading it off the computer.  For the purpose of this project, it was labeled as ‘gear encountered’, rather than derelict gear encountered. To summarize this data, I took the total amount of crab pots observed in hauls from 2002-2018 based on the amount of trawl hours in each area.  This map helped us identify where we are seeing crab pots in the haul, which is higher at the nearshore fisheries. Maps and other graphs were made in R, which is a pretty cool data analysis tool I learned over the summer!

Overall, my experience was great! I learned a lot from my mentors about fisheries management, data analysis, the observer program, and the possibilities for future research…and also made great friends and memories!

Delaney's research poster