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Uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) survey of walleye pollock, Gadus chalcogrammus , in response to the cancellation of ship-based surveys

  • De Robertis, Alex1
  • Levine, Mike1
  • Lauffenburger, Nathan1
  • Honkalehto, Taina1
  • Ianelli, James1
  • Monnahan, Cole C1
  • Towler, Rick1
  • Jones, Darin1
  • Stienessen, Sarah1
  • McKelvey, Denise1
  • 1 Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, USA , (United States)
Published Article
ICES Journal of Marine Science
Oxford University Press
Publication Date
Aug 23, 2021
DOI: 10.1093/icesjms/fsab155
PMCID: PMC8499815
PubMed Central
  • AcademicSubjects/SCI00010


In 2020, the developing COVID-19 pandemic disrupted fisheries surveys to an unprecedented extent. Many surveys were cancelled, including those for walleye pollock ( Gadus chalcogrammus ) in the eastern Bering Sea (EBS), the largest fishery in the United States. To partially mitigate the loss of survey information, we deployed three uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs) equipped with echosounders to extend the ship-based acoustic-trawl time series of pollock abundance. Trawling was not possible from USVs, so an empirical relationship between pollock backscatter and biomass established from previous surveys was developed to convert USV backscatter observations into pollock abundance. The EBS is well suited for this approach since pollock dominate midwater fishes in the survey area. Acoustic data from the USVs were combined with historical surveys to provide a consistent fishery-independent index in 2020. This application demonstrates the unique capabilities of USVs and how they could be rapidly deployed to collect information on pollock abundance and distribution when a ship-based survey was not feasible. We note the limitations of this approach (e.g. higher uncertainty relative to previous ship-based surveys), but found the USV survey to be useful in informing the stock assessment in a situation where ship-based surveys were not possible.

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