UF-led team wins $1.1 million NOAA grant to enhance fishery models, sustainability

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Fisheries managers will soon be able to make more informed decisions about commercial and recreational fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, thanks to a team of scientists led by a researcher with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association recently announced that the UF-led team will receive a $1.1 million grant as part of the NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program. 15 projects received awards totaling $16.7 million.

The team aims to improve ecosystem models in the Gulf that will allow fisheries managers to understand how environmental change affects valuable fish populations and how their decisions impact other species, said David Chagaris, the project’s lead investigator and research assistant professor based at the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station.

“Once complete, our models will allow managers to evaluate management options for multiple species simultaneously, while also accounting for environmental factors, such as invasive species, red tides and climate change,” Chagaris said.

These new models, which will be developed with input from current fishery managers, would be a significant step up from current technologies, Chagaris explained.

“This would be a major advancement over the traditional approach of management, which considers each species individually and assumes no environmental changes,” Chagaris said. “Ultimately, managers will be able to explore the ecological tradeoffs associated with their policy choices.”

An ecosystem model is a computer representation of all the forces that influence an ecosystem. These forces include factors such as competition among species for food, as well as environmental conditions, such as water temperature.

“Fishery managers monitor stock sizes and set regulations to ensure fish populations are harvested sustainably,” Chagaris said. “They often make those decisions with high uncertainty about how fish populations are affected by natural environmental processes, or how their management actions could impact other parts of the food web.”

More integrated models will allow managers to make better informed decisions, Chagaris said. To test their models, the research team will apply them to two important species managed in the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf menhaden and gag grouper.

“The goal of the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station is to enhance the management and conservation of natural resources throughout this region,” said Micheal Allen, director of the UF/IFAS NCBS. “Dr. Chagaris’ project will substantially advance ecosystem based fisheries management in the Gulf of Mexico, thereby improving management outcomes for fisheries. The work also represents a collaboration with scientists within NOAA, a key partner agency for this work.”

Development and testing will take place over the next three years. The project’s co-investigators include researchers from NOAA, George Mason University, and UF.

Another UF/IFAS NCBS research assistant professor, Charles Martin, also received NOAA funding through two projects for which he is a co-investigator.   Those projects will assess the importance of seagrass beds to fish communities and determine how marsh restoration is influenced by riverine inputs. “We are honored to receive three of these awards within UF/IFAS, and look forward to the management implications that will result from these projects,” Allen said.

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By: Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

 

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