Saildrone to Perform Annual Alaska Pollock Survey Amid COVID-19 Lockdown

NOAA Fisheries traditionally uses research vessels and chartered fishing vessels to perform fisheries surveys, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this summer’s ship-based surveys in the region have been canceled. Instead, three Saildrone unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) deployed from Alameda, California, are sailing to the Bering Sea to perform this important task.

The Alaska pollock fishery in the eastern Bering Sea is the largest commercial fishery in the U.S. by volume. Landings in recent years have totaled some 1.2 billion kg (2.6 billion lb.)—a value of around $1.4 billion. Sustainable management of the fishery requires scientific, fisheries-independent surveys to set appropriate fishing quotas. 

The Saildrones are expected to reach the Bering Sea in early July to begin the 60-day acoustic survey. Each vehicle will cover a third of the total survey area normally covered by research vessels. They are equipped with Simrad EK80 high-precision split-beam echosounders. The saildrones will make repeated measurements while moving through the water. The data will be used to map fish abundance and estimate overall fish populations.

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