In the Bering Sea, pollock are so abundant that our mid-water trawls capture mostly pollock. However, there are a lot of other species in the Bering Sea that scientists are interested in. In addition to the Oscar Dyson, NOAA charters fishing boats (such as the Alaska Knight and the Aldebaron) to trawl on the ocean floor. This allows scientists to see more species in the Bering Sea. These ships trawl all day; sometimes up to 6 trawls a day. The groundfishing boats cover the eastern Bering Sea shelf, extending up to the region around St. Lawrence Island (a wider area than the Oscar Dyson will cover). While the Oscar Dyson focuses on euphausiids and pollock, the groundfishing boats examine everything else found on the bottom.
Who owns the water?
International laws provide countries with an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) within 200 miles of their shoreline. The area we are studying in the Bering Sea can be fished solely by fishing boats operated in the United States. On the other side of the Sea, Russians fish in their own 200-mile zone. However, in the middle there is a “donut hole” which is considered “international waters.” This Donut Hole supported a large pollock fishery in the late 1980’s. Here is a diagram showing the Donut Hole (interesting note, it is also called the Donut Hole in Russia (or at least called Bubleek — the Russian word for a donut hole.))
How do American scientists collaborate with scientists from other countries?
The United States works with other Pacific countries to conduct research on the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea. For example, the Oscar Dyson, in addition to hosting two Teachers at Sea, is hosting two Russian scientists from the Pacific Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (TINRO) in Vladivostok, Russia – Mikhail Stepanenko and Elena Gritsay. I had the opportunity to sit down with Mikhail the other night and asked him about his experience and how he ended up on the Oscar Dyson.
Born and raised in Primorye, Mikhail spent a great deal of time at the Ussuri River. He studied biology at The Far East State University in Vladivostok and began researching at sea soon after his graduation in 1968. After the first USA-USSR agreement regarding marine research, Mikhail visited the United States and worked out of La Jolla, CA starting in 1969. He has spent about 5-6 months at sea per year for the last 40 years, including the last 18 summers on the NOAA summer pollock survey (specifically on the Oscar Dyson and its predecessor the Miller Freeman). This wealth of experience has made Mikhail an expert and he is a well-respected member of the Pacific marine science community.
Throughout the years, there have been numerous conferences between stakeholder countries and Mikhail has played an active role in recommending action for working together to maintain the populations of pollock and other fish. Mikhail has served on the Intergovernmental Consultative Committee (ICC) – a six-nation committee that meets biannually to discuss fishing polices in the “donut hole.” In addition, Mikhail worked as a Russian delegate during meetings which led to the creation of PICES (North Pacific Marine Science Organization), an “intergovernmental scientific organization, was established in 1992 to promote and coordinate marine research in the northern North Pacific and adjacent seas.” (Visit their website for more information.) Mikhail was elected Chairman of the Fisheries Science Committee (FIS), a branch of PICES, in 2008 and is currently preparing for their next meeting in October.
Each organization is trying to find the best policies to help understand the organisms through reproduction, population dynamics, stock assessments and fishery management. Mikhail’s wealth of knowledge, collaborative scientific research and commitment to the sustainable fishing benefits all members of the international community and we are lucky to have such a science superstar in our midst.