Marine Resources Monitoring, Assessment, & Prediction - MARMAP

Program History

Research Vessel Dolphin
R/V Dolphin

The Marine Resources Monitoring, Assessment, and Prediction (MARMAP) Program is a cooperative fisheries project of the Marine Resources Research Institute and the NOAA Fisheries. The program conducts reef fish assessment from Cape Lookout, North Carolina to Fort Pierce, Florida. While recent efforts of the South Carolina MARMAP program have concentrated on fishery-independent assessments of reef fish abundance and life history, the program began over 30 years ago as an ichthyoplankton and groundfish survey of shelf and upper slope waters from Cape Lookout to Cape Canaveral.

MARMAP began in 1972 by conducting a trawl and larval fish survey throughout the South Atlantic Bight aboard the Research Vessel Dolphin. The data collected were used to describe the seasonal distribution and abundance of groundfish and fish larvae throughout the region. From 1973 to 1980, over 800 trawl stations, and nearly 1200 ichthyoplankton and hydrographic stations were sampled. Several publications resulted from these early surveys, primarily providing descriptions of the groundfish and ichthyoplankton community, as well as seasonal circulation patterns and hydrography in the South Atlantic Bight.

Red snapper near artificial reef
Red Snapper near artificial reef

These surveys indicated that the greatest biomass and diversity of fishes were found at middle (19-27 m) and outer (28-55 m) shelf depths in areas of rocky outcrops, limestone reefs and associated octocorals and sponges constitute the "live-bottom" reef habitat of the southeastern shelf. This “live-bottom” habitat provided habitat for the many species of snapper and grouper that supported the rapidly expanding reef fish fisheries off the Carolinas and Georgia in the early 1970's. The MARMAP trawl gear was ineffective in sampling this habitat, so alternative methods were sought to assess abundance of adult reef fish. Beginning in 1978, a variety of gear types, including fish traps, longlines, hook-and-line and underwater visual census methods were tested for assessing reef fish abundance. Results indicated that off-bottom longline gear was useful for sampling deepwater snowy grouper and blueline tilefish, bottom longline for tilefish, and commercial blackfish and Florida snapper fish traps worked well for sampling continental shelf reef fish. Remote sensing, including sonar and visual census with underwater video, was found to be useful in locating reef fish habitat and concentrations of gag and other reef fishes.

Sunset over water

From 1978 through 1989 MARMAP utilized commercial blackfish traps to sample the snapper and grouper species associated with live-bottom habitat, and in 1980 a Florida snapper trap was added to sample species not adequately sampled with the blackfish trap. Trap samples were supplemented with standardized hook and line sampling. In 1988, a new trap type – the chevron trap was identified, and after two years of comparing catches of the chevron traps to those of blackfish and Florida traps, it was adopted as the primary gear type utilized by MARMAP.

MARMAP has developed a long-term database for reef fish that has proven valuable in interpreting fisheries landings data and developing regulations for protecting reef fish resources. Restrictions on minimum sizes of most commercially important species makes it difficult to monitor life history parameters and abundance data from samples collected from the fishery landings. MARMAP has the only existing long term program off the Atlantic coast of the southeastern United States that monitors reef fish length frequency, abundance, and life history based on fishery-independent data. These data provide critical input for the assessments of stock status conducted by NOAA Fisheries, and greatly assist federal stock assessment scientists and decision makers in the management of snapper/grouper complex of the South Atlantic Bight.