The dive charter for the annual Haida Gwaii herring stock assessment has been cancelled due to COVID-19.
In an email, Fisheries and Oceans Canada communications adviser Michelle Rainer told the Observer the dive survey had been replaced with a surface survey for 2020.
Rainer confirmed the contingency plan had been put in place after the Haida Fisheries Program withdrew the vessel usually used for the dive survey due to COVID-19 safety concerns.
“It is not possible this late in the season to secure a new vessel and dive crew,” she said. “Instead, a contingency plan has been developed to have the Victoria Rose reconnaissance vessel conduct the herring spawn survey using surface survey methods.”
As of April 14, she said the Victoria Rose vessel was in the major stock assessment area doing spawn reconnaissance and surface surveys, with Haida Fisheries Program vessel the Haida Guardian assisting with reconnaissance. The Atlas vessel had already surveyed spawns in the minor stock assessment area as part of a six-day charter that began on April 4.
Rainer said dive surveys are used when possible, however, the stock assessment analysts have experience working with data from both types of surveys, and will carefully review the 2020 data and consult with the survey team to support decisions on data use for the annual stock assessment.
Surface surveys were conducted from 1951 to 1987 and in 2006, she added, and due to weather and spawn timing, surface surveys were used in 50 per cent of the years from 1988 to 2019.
“In these years, approximately 10 per cent of the total herring spawn was surveyed via a surface survey,” she said.
Rainer said the Queens Reach seine test vessel — “the first ‘eyes on the water,’ — had completed sounding assessment and collection of biological samples from pre-spawning aggregations as of April 5, and comparisons between 2019 and 2020 abundances will be available in late summer.
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