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New vessel revolutionizes fisheries research

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Contact: Randall Peterman, 604.291.4683, peterman@sfu.ca
Sean Cox, 604.291.5778, spcox@sfu.ca
Bill de la Mare, 604.291.3067, delamare@sfu.ca
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 604.291.3035, cthorbes@sfu.ca

Website: http://www.rem.sfu.ca/fishgrp/ (photo gallery on website)



September 27, 2006

Simon Fraser University’s latest marine research toolkit would have been a real bonus to NEMO, the little orphaned fish who lost his parents in the famous animation Finding NEMO.

With all of the state-of-the-art equipment aboard the C.J. Walters, including a remotely-operated ecological marine vehicle (ROV) called REMO, NEMO would have been reunited with his parents in no time.

From a distance the 9.7-metre C.J. Walters looks like any other aluminum fishing boat. But climb aboard, and you’ll see why this fully loaded, custom-made vessel will make major waves in fisheries research at Simon Fraser University.

Media will have the opportunity to tour the vessel during its official launch on Wednesday, September 27. The unveiling will be at Harbour Green Park, 2 to 4 p.m., 1199 West Cordova Street (north foot of Bute Street, on the waterfront at Coal Harbour).

Outfitted with REMO, plus an acoustic-sonar tracking system, an acoustic habitat identification system, high-end computers, and video equipment, this multi-purpose craft’s sophistication exceeds what exists at other Canadian universities.

SFU’s Fisheries Science and Management Research Group, located in the school of Resource and Environmental Management (REM), designed the $1-million aquatic remote-sensing lab to improve fisheries management and conservation. The facility also includes a wet lab and data analysis laboratories on the SFU Burnaby campus.

By providing governments, non-government organizations, industries, researchers and other interested parties with previously unobtainable analysis of fish in their environment, the floating lab will improve scientific understanding of pressing marine and fish population problems.

Randall Peterman, one of REM’s three faculty members, says: “Better science on how environmental and human factors affect fish populations and their ecosystems will improve decisions and policy-making on conservation and management.”

With a maximum speed of more than 32 knots (60 km/hr), the C.J. Walters, named after a Canadian fisheries scientist, will allow researchers to track fish over large areas. The vessel can be used to research many types of fishing because its equipment and platforms for visually surveying marine life are easily reconfigured, removed and adapted to deep sea-going vessels.

On-board computers enable the vessel to map seabed habitat types and relay an acoustic picture of what the ROV is sensing in visually pitch-black water, down to 600 metres deep. A robotic arm on the ROV allows scientists on the surface to collect previously unrecoverable water and marine life samples.

“We can now go to depths way beyond where divers can go,” says Sean Cox, a REM faculty member, “and can do day-long underwater surveys of commercially valuable but vulnerable marine life. They include crabs, sea cucumber and sea urchins.”

The vessel and lab will help researchers make better use of limited funds for sampling the environment for targeted, threatened species, and more accurately estimate their current and future abundance.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation, the B.C. Knowledge Development Fund and SFU provided the $1 million for the construction of the C.J. Walters and its state-of-the-art marine tool kit.

Backgrounder

Training a new breed of fisheries scientists and managers

Graduates of the Simon Fraser University master’s and doctoral programs in fisheries science and management are becoming the prized catches of private, government, and non-government agencies, worldwide.

Teaching grads how to solve real-life fisheries problems using applied science is the focus of the SFU Fisheries Science and Management Research Group, which is part of the School of Resource and Environmental Management (REM).

The courses, which are unique at Canadian universities, teach graduates how to understand difficult issues in fish population dynamics and management, and to evaluate management options that are mindful of conflicting demands.

REM fisheries graduates can confidently navigate troubled waters in fisheries management because of their ability to generate reliable scientific data and grasp how fisheries science intersects with many disciplines, such as environmental policy and law.

“In fisheries management, decisions usually involve making trade-offs about conservation, social, economic and other values,” notes Randall Peterman, one of REM’s three fisheries faculty members. “We don’t suggest which trade-offs to make, but our students’ use of analytical tools produces results that can help decision makers make well-informed decisions.”

Most of the decision makers to date in fisheries management have had training in economics, law and/or biology, but they haven’t had the breadth of training offered by SFU’s program, observes Peterman.

Recent master’s graduate Jaclyn Cleary designed a coast-wide survey to study the health of B.C.’s sablefish— a $40-million industry. The same student is working on trawl-survey designs to assess the health of B.C.’s $160-million ground fish trawl industry.

Fisheries students and researchers at REM and at outside agencies collaborate on research that aims to provide the most accurate and comprehensive analysis of fish populations, using limited budgets.

Some examples of research collaboration:

  • Randall Peterman, a Canada Research Chair in Fisheries Risk Assessment and Management, along with grad student Carrie Holt, developed an improved method for forecasting abundance of sockeye salmon. Peterman is also currently evaluating salmon stock assessment methods and harvesting guidelines for their ability to respond to future climate changes.

  • Bill de la Mare, a REM faculty member with extensive experience in marine and freshwater fisheries assessment and management, helped a multi-stakeholder group to evaluate options for reviving declining lingcod populations in Georgia Strait. The group's consensus about management strategies led to re-opening of the lingcod fishery in 2006.

  • Sean Cox, a REM faculty member with expertise in multi-species simulation and assessment models, is evaluating monitoring and management strategies for northern B.C. coho and sablefish. As part of his work, Cox and his student Kendra Holt are developing a simple, yet statistically effective method for tracking coho population trends in B.C.

— 30 —(electronic photo files/video available on request)