Variation in trawl geometry due to unequal warp length


Weinberg, Kenneth L., and David A Somerton
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Survey standardization procedures can reduce the variability in trawl catch efficiency thus producing more precise estimates of biomass. One such procedure, towing with equal amounts of trawl warp on both sides of the net, was experimentally investigated for its importance in determining optimal trawl geometry and for evaluating the effectiveness of the recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) national protocol on accurate measurement of trawl warps. This recent standard for measuring warp length requires that the difference between warp lengths can be no more than 4% of the distance between the otter doors measured along the bridles and footrope. Trawl performance data from repetitive towing with warp differentials of 0, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 20 m were analyzed for their effect on three determinants of flatfish catch efficiency: footrope distance off-bottom, bridle length in contact with the bottom, and area swept by the net. Our results indicated that the distortion of the trawl caused by asymmetry in trawl warp length could have a negative influence on flatfish catch efficiency. At a difference of 7 m in warp length, the NOAA 4% threshold value for the 83- 112 Eastern survey trawl used in our study, we found no effect on the acoustic-based measures of door spread, wing spread, and headrope height off-bottom. However, the sensitivity of the trawl to 7 m of warp offset could be seen as footrope distances off-bottom increased slightly (particularly in the center region of the net where flatfish escapement is highest), and as the width of the bridle path responsible for flatfish herding, together with the effective net width, was reduced. For this survey trawl, a NOAA threshold value of 4% should be considered a maximum. A more conservative value (less than 4%) would likely reduce potential bias in estimates of relative abundance caused by large differences in warp length approaching 7 m.