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By: Jamie Monty. Assistant Manager

On January 31, 2012, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hosted a workshop called “Integration & Coordination of Efforts to Monitor Reef Fish Populations on the Florida Reef Tract”. This kick-off meeting brought together scientists and managers from the Florida Keys and southeast Florida regions to coordinate a fisheries-independent monitoring effort along the entire Florida Reef Tract. Fisheries-independent monitoring is a fish monitoring program using standardized sampling methods to examine the population of fishes as a whole (e.g., every fish you see when you’re SCUBA diving); in contrast, a fishery-dependent monitoring program uses data from only the exploited segment of a population (e.g., only the fish you catch using hook and line or a net). Florida’s Coral Reef Conservation Program has been building partnerships and obtaining funding to implement fisheries-independent monitoring, a priority information gap in the southeast Florida region. The sampling design is currently underway, and the first in-water assessment will begin this summer. The data collected in southeast Florida will be based on the Reef Visual Census (RVC) method, so that southeast Florida fish data will be comparable to the decade’s worth of data from the National Parks and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This will be the first time the fish population of the entire Florida Reef Tract will be looked at holistically – which will help inform resource management decisions. Additionally, these methods were recently recognized by NOAA as the most appropriate for fish surveys throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.