Reef Fish Depredation

Full Title: Characterizing cryptic mortality in Gulf of Mexico reef fish: Evaluating the nature and extent of depredation

The project team plans to describe the extent of depredation, or the removal of captured fish by non-target species before the fish can be retrieved by a fishing vessel, in the Gulf of Mexico to improve reef fish stock assessments.

Lead Investigator: J. Marcus Drymon, Mississippi State University and Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, marcus.drymon@msstate.edu

Natural Resource Manager: Daniel Goethel, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service

Project Team: Matt Ajemian (Florida Atlantic University), Angela Collins (Florida Sea Grant), Bryan Fluech (Georgia Sea Grant), Steven Gray (Michigan State University), Mandy Karnauskas (NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service), Julie Lively (Louisiana Sea Grant), Skyler Sagarese (NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service), and Steven Scyphers (Northeastern University)

Federal Program Officer/Point of Contact: Frank Parker (frank.parker@noaa.gov)

Award Amount: $118,023

Award Period: This project began in September 2021 and will end in August 2022.

Why it matters: Stock assessments rely on data from fisheries landings to set sustainable catch targets and limits. However, cryptic mortality through depredation, defined as the removal of captured fishes by non-target species, is causing managers to underestimate fish removal, resulting in inappropriate catch limits. The project team will reduce uncertainties in setting catch targets and limits by providing quantitative descriptions of depredation.

What the team is doing: A multidisciplinary team will determine the temporal and spatial trends of depredation using existing data; implement and design a social survey of fishers; and hold a mental modeling workshop with stakeholders to facilitate reciprocal knowledge exchange and identify knowledge gaps.

Expected outcome: The research and development plan, as well as the application plan produced from this project, will be shared with NOAA Fisheries to inform assessments of depredation. These plans will also be used to identify depredation deterrents favored by stakeholders.