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Science Center for Marine Fisheries Science (SCeMFiS)

University of Southern Mississippi

Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Last Reviewed: 03/14/2020

SCeMFiS utilizes academic, recreational and commercial fishery resources to address presently urgent and emerging scientific problems that could limit sustainable fisheries.

SCeMFiS provides academic research products with a goal of enhancing efficient management of shellfish and finfish resources.

SCeMFiS provides scientific research products essential in enhancing awareness of the health benefits of sustainable seafood as well as increasing opportunities for valued growth within seafood business sectors.  

Center Mission and Rationale

The Science Center for Marine Fisheries (SCeMFiS) provides academic research products essential for the sustainable management of shellfish and finfish resources. SCeMFiS seeks to simultaneously achieve the goals of sustainable fish and shellfish stocks and sustainable fish and shellfish fisheries. A multi-decadal evolution in fisheries management in the U.S. has formalized the criteria for sustainability and developed sophisticated modeling tools to achieve this goal; but success is limited by insufficient information on the finfish and shellfish stocks and fisheries and insufficient development of numerical applications to surmount the modeling challenges posed by these sustainability goals. Rapid climate change continues to expose the limitations of present-day data resources and assessment, exacerbating the gap between data resource availability and data resource needs. Increasingly complex management requirements continue to reveal limitations in data resources, data analysis, and model construction, thereby limiting the attainment of maximum sustainable yield.

The attainment of the dual goals of sustainable fish stocks and sustainable fishing industries requires a dual focus on (a) the assessment process that determines the status of the stock and (b) the regulatory process that provides the vehicle by which the fishery is managed to optimize stock status while supporting a robust industry. SCeMFiS supports an academic research program encompassing both components of the management process. SCeMFiS’ capabilities encompass the range of oceanographic, fisheries, and marine biological disciplines essential for addressing the data resource and analytical challenges faced by modern-day fisheries management.

Research program

The Science Agenda

SCeMFiS-mission-pertinent accomplishments: For SCeMFiS, the following examples show accomplishments pertinent to the SCeMFiS mission and to the needs of members. Ongoing projects and projects completed in 2019 include the following:

1. Biostatistical and fishery-dependent sampling of Atlantic chub mackerel: This project examines the life-history characteristics of Atlantic Chub Mackerel, including length-at-age and weight-at-length relationships and the catch history of the commercial fishery.

2. A meta-analysis of the impact of forage fish abundance on predator productivity: This project evaluates the empirical link between forage fish abundance and predator productivity.

3. Design of a cooperative winter pelagic survey for Atlantic menhaden in the Mid-Atlantic: This project will design a cooperative winter pelagic survey for Atlantic menhaden in the Mid-Atlantic region to provide estimates of trends in abundance for the northern portion of the stock inhabiting midshelf waters during winter and early spring.

4. Evaluation of alternative approaches to risk-based catch advice: Time series of catch advice, implied fishing mortality limit or target, realized catch, and realized fishing mortality will be used to derive forecast error and the performance of alternative methods for risk-based catch advice. Atlantic surfclam and summer flounder will be the focus of this research program.

5. Evaluation of sampling adequacy for Atlantic menhaden fisheries: Biological samples collected from commercial menhaden fisheries characterize the age distribution of the catch, track year classes, and estimate fishing mortality and fleet selectivity at age. This biological sampling program will be statistically evaluated to determine sampling adequacy.

6. Ocean quahog population dynamics: validation of estimation procedures for an age-at-length key: The range of ages at length, the skewed distribution of the number of individuals at age at length, and the variation between sites in these metrics constrain development of an age-at-length key for ocean quahogs. This project will acquire a a sufficient number of ages at length to permit creation of a standard key to develop methods of estimation from the sparse dataset that will be required for routine age-length key specification.

7. Industry profile and economic impacts associated with the commercial fishery for longfin squid (Doryteuthis pealeii): This work will characterize the commercial fishing industry for longfin squid in the northwest Atlantic, occurring primarily from southern Georges Bank to Cape Hatteras.

8. Evaluation of sampling adequacy for the Gulf of Mexico commercial menhaden reduction fishery: Biological samples collected from commercial menhaden fisheries characterize the age distribution of the catch, track year classes, and estimate fishing mortality and fleet selectivity at age. This biological sampling program has not been statistically evaluated to determine sampling adequacy.

9. Reproductive Biology and Fecundity of Atlantic Menhaden: The objective of this investigation is to generate a contemporary evaluation of Atlantic menhaden reproductive biology that represents their full spatiotemporal spawning range, and yield updated estimates of fecundity.

10. Workshop on “MSE and Statutory Objectives for Marine Mammals”: Dissemination of the recent MSE work to scientists, managers and others is needed to identify key issues and challenges for future research. The venue will be a 1-day workshop aimed at scientists, managers, and NGOs involved in marine mammal assessments and management.

11. The influence of global warming on the Atlantic surfclam and the ocean quahog: Recent analysis of the NEFSC ancillary database and ocean quahog age frequencies has identified issues that should be addressed related to the continued shift in range of these two clam species. Dating of shells in regions not presently inhabited will permit determination of timing of previous occupation and provide a record of historical range shifts.

12. Analysis of dredge efficiency for ocean quahog and surfclam commercial/survey dredges: Reliability of the stock abundance estimate is dependent on the reliability of the dredge efficiency estimate. This project will provide a focused analysis of the many depletion experiments to improve reliability of the estimates.

13. Evaluation of gray seal-fishery interactions in US waters of the western North Atlantic: This project will develop a cross-jurisdictional model for the purpose of allowing NMFS to better evaluate the nature and magnitude of gray seal-fishery interactions in the western North Atlantic, and recommend specific research priorities, including sample size and cost-benefit tradeoffs to improve management of gray seals in US waters.

14. Mid-Atlantic discards analysis: This project will develop tools in the commercial fishery to reduce bycatch and to promote understanding by the industry of the characteristics of the fishers (gear and sectors) and fishing activity (spatial and temporal patterns) that impact bycatch, focused on scup, Loligo, black sea bass, and summer flounder fisheries.

15. Atlantic menhaden stock assessment review: This project will review the ASMFC stock assessment and provide recommendations to the IAB for research.

16. Modeling safety risks arising from offshore wind development: Intensive offshore wind development is picking up in the Northeast Atlantic without a framework to evaluate risk to vessel operations. This project will combine spatial data sets tracking commercial fishing and shipping vessels to estimate these risks and develop a status-quo model of baseline hazards.

17. Economic impacts of reduced uncertainty associated with fishery management actions with flounder: A current economic impact assessment for the mid-Atlantic summer flounder fishery is not available. The objective of this proposal is to provide an economic assessment for the commercial sector of the fishery by employing modeling approaches developed previously with SCeMFiS support for economic activity along the market chain for surfclams, ocean quahogs, and scup.

18. Retrospective analysis of age and growth rates in Atlantic surfclams: The moving footprint of the range of exploited surfclams in the mid-Atlantic and Georges Bank is well documented. This project proposes to develop a 33-year retrospective spatially-explicit time series of growth rates in surfclams over the surveyed range to document the changes in population productivity and to provide an explicit forward projection of future productivity.

19. Understanding the utility of archived tag-recapture data for evaluation of movement and mortality estimation: Because of the power of tag and recapture studies for understanding stock dynamics, the Gulf Menhaden Stock Assessment recommended replicating tagging work from 1969 to 1985. Such a study is cost prohibitive, but re-analysis of the previously collected data can provide new insights. This project will provide digital data from these tagging studies for analysis.

20. Ocean quahog population dynamics: development of a dataset supporting use of age compositions in the assessment: SCeMFiS supported acquisition of the first population age frequencies for ocean quahogs in the northwest Atlantic. The differential in age-frequencies among the 4 sites has spawned concern about the degree to which any site can be extrapolated regionally. This proposal will address the issue and focus on NJ because the influence of MAB warming is greatest there.

21. Evaluation of the degree of co-occurrence of surfclams and ocean quahogs at fishable concentrations: Warming of the Mid-Atlantic continental shelf has initiated a range shift such that an ecotone now exists over much of the offshore range of the surfclam and ocean quahog wherein both are jointly found. Regulations prohibit the landing of the two species simultaneously. Fishing in these areas may unduly increase discards and increase the cost of fishing. The extent of the problem needs to be specified before potential mechanisms to address the present joint-species landing prohibition can be sought.

Special Activities

SCeMFiS scientists participate in every level of the federal management process. These include assessment meetings coordinated by the National Marine Fisheries Service and management council meetings coordinated by the regional management councils (e.g., MAFMC, GMFMC, ASMFC).

Facilities and Laboratory

A research dredge for collection of pre recruit (to the fishery) size clams was designed and fabricated by industry partners in March-July 2014, and deployed in the August 2014 surveys aboard an industry vessel under charter by NEFSC. SCeMFiS scientists and students participated in dredge testing. A comparison with prior lined dredges demonstrated comparable performance of the new research dredge in clam retention for both target species but with much lower sediment retention and fouling, and greater ease in operation. The new research dredge will be the gear of choice for future selectivity studies, a critical element in assessment of the entire clam population demographic. In addition, the new research dredge demonstrated remarkable ability to retain pre recruit size clams over significant sampling areas, including all size classes down to 20 mm maximum dimension, and densities of pre-recruit clams up to 55 m-2 – both capabilities that have been lacking in prior survey gear.


University of Southern Mississippi

Gulf Coast Research Laboratory
703 East Beach Drive

Ocean Springs, Mississippi, 39564

United States

Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Virginia Institute of Marine Science
The College of William and Mary

Gloucester Point, Virginia, 23062

United States