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Saltwater sleuths: Seeking clues to help determine the ages of fish and shellfish populations
Date:5/21/2008

Fishery biologist Sandy Sutherland looks through the lens of the microscope at tiny sections of fish earbones, known as otoliths, each showing annual bands of growth. She carefully counts the bands to determine the age of the fish, then moves on to the next sample. Known as an age reader, Sutherland is one of a small team at NOAAs Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) whose aging work is critical to stock assessments needed to manage the nations fishery resources in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean.

Year after year, she and colleagues age tens of thousands of samples. They come from many sources: shell samples from surfclams, otoliths from several dozen fish species, vertebra from monkfish, and scales from summer, winter, and yellowtail flounder.

Age reading requires a lot of patience, says Jay Burnett, a fishery biologist who joined NEFSC in 1982 in the stock assessment group and now heads the Fishery Biology Program within the NEFSCs Fisheries and Ecosystems Monitoring and Analysis Division. This has been a very busy year. In 2008 we will read more than 100,000 samples.

The aging team works in the "Cottage", a Cape Cod-style house along the Woods Hole waterfront which once served as home to the laboratorys directors. Boxes full of samples arrive at the Cottage each week. About 60 percent of the samples are from commercial fish that are landed in ports from Virginia to Maine. About 30 percent of the samples are from the Centers own research surveys, and about 10 percent come from the Northeast Fishery Observer Program, which places samplers directly on commercial fishing vessels. A fraction of the samples come from recreational fishing and the NOAA Fisheries Cooperative Research Program.

Some fisheries are very seasonal, so samples vary, Burnett says. Commercial samples will come from fish that have a market value and are caught in certain areas where fishermen know they will find them. Survey samples come from sampling i
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Contact: Shelley Dawicki
shelley.dawicki@noaa.gov
508-495-2378
NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service
Source:Eurekalert

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