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New camera can help assess cod stocks in Gulf of Maine

UMass Dartmouth scientists deploy new video system to survey Atlantic Cod population on the Stellwagen Bank fishing grounds.
UMass Dartmouth scientists deploy new video system to survey Atlantic Cod population on the Stellwagen Bank fishing grounds.(UMass Dartmouth)

Researchers from UMass Dartmouth say they have successfully tested an underwater video-survey system that they hope will provide an accurate method to assess Atlantic cod stocks.

In collaboration with fishermen, the research team recently placed high-resolution cameras in an open-ended commercial trawl net on Stellwagen Bank in the Gulf of Maine, known as one of the world’s most active marine sanctuaries.

The cameras captured images of cod and other groundfish as they passed through the net. Periodically, researchers from UMD’s School for Marine Science & Technology closed the net for short periods to collect length, weight, and take other biological samples from some of the fish. The fish are unharmed and are returned to the sea.

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The system is design to be portable, so scientists can set it up on different fishing vessels. The UMass team plans to make a second trip to Stellwagen in early April to survey spring spawning results.

Such high-tech experiments, as the Globe’s Jim O’Sullivan reported last month, are essential in efforts to gauge whether the cod population, which has suffered a historic collapse, might have a comeback in store. Federal limits on how many fish each boat can catch have hurt fishermen.

In a video clip released by UMass Dartmouth on Wednesday, sizeable numbers of fish can be seen fluttering in the strong currents as they swim into the bright green net.

Professor Kevin Stokesbury, head researcher on the project, said the video system is an important tool at a time of uncertainty about the groundfish stock in the Gulf of Maine.


Roy Greene can be reached at roy.greene@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @roygreene.