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Oceanographic investigation of the American Samoa albacore (Thunnus alalunga) habitat and longline fishing grounds

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The American Samoa fishing ground is a dynamic region with strong mesoscale eddy activity and temporal variability on scales of <1 week. Seasonal and interannual variability in eddy activity, induced by baroclinic instability that is fueled by horizontal shear between the eastward-flowing South Equatorial Counter Current (SECC) and the westward-flowing South Equatorial Current (SEC), seems to play an important role in the performance of the longline fishery for albacore. Mesoscale eddy variability in the American Samoa Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) peaks from March to April, when the kinetic energy of the SECC is at its strongest. Longline albacore catch tends to be highest at the eddy edges, while albacore catch per effort (CPUE) shows intra-annual variability with high CPUE that lags the periods of peak eddy activity by about 2 months. When CPUE is highest, the values are distributed toward the northern half of the EEZ, the region affected most by the SECC. Further indication of the possible importance of the SECC for longline performance is the significant drop in eddy variability in 2004 when compared with that observed in 2003 – resulting from a weak SECC – which was accompanied by a substantial drop in albacore CPUE rates and a lack of northward intensification of CPUE. From an ecosystem perspective, evidence to support higher micronekton biomass in the upper 200 m at eddy boundaries is inconclusive. Albacore's vertical distribution seems to be governed by the presence of prey. Albacore spend most of their time between 150 and 250 m, away from the deep daytime and shallow nighttime sonic scattering layers, at depths coinciding with those of small local maxima in micronekton biomass whose backscattering properties are consistent with those of albacore's preferred prey. Settling depths of longline sets during periods of decreased eddy activity correspond to those most occupied by albacore, possibly contributing to the lower CPUE by reducing catchability through rendering bait less attractive to albacore in the presence of prey.
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Keywords: American Samoa EEZ; South Equatorial Counter Current (SECC); albacore tuna; longline fishery; mesoscale eddy; micronekton distribution; mid-ocean eddies; sonic scattering layer (SSL)

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, 2570 Dole Street, Honolulu, HI 96822-2396, USA 2: Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, University of Hawaii, 1000 Pope Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA

Publication date: 2007-11-01

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