Our research focuses on developing and testing quantitative modeling tools used for the assessment and management of living marine resources. We develop and test decision support tools applied to fish, marine mammal, and reptile populations in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic US, Gulf of Alaska, Europe, and Australia. Current research also uses ecosystem modeling to test the performance of fishery- and ecosystem-based management strategies and evaluate the robustness of management options to a range of system uncertainty, including environmental change.

We collaborate with scientists at state and federal fisheries science and management agencies (e.g. Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service), in addition to resource assessment scientists at international science organizations (e.g. CSIRO Australia, ICES, and the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research). We also work with marine governance bodies (e.g. New England Fishery Management Council, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council). Graduate students in our lab all work with scientists at NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, in Population Dynamics, Ecosystem Dynamics and Assessment, and Protected Species.

Current and recent research topics include:

  • Using ecosystem models to test the performance of ecosystem-based fisheries management strategies in the Northeast US,
  • Developing methods for managing New England groundfish fisheries under a changing climate,
  • Assessing economic effects of fishing scenarios through ecological-economic model coupling,
  • Ecosystem indicators as operational tools for fisheries management
  • Management of recreational fishery for summer flounder
  • Developing and testing spatial stock assessment models
  • Integrating telemetry information into assessment models for highly migratory species
  • Decision support tools for Integrated Ecosystem Assessment and Ecosystem-Based Management
  • Multispecies stock assessment models
  • Identifying gray meat locations in the Northeast US sea scallop fishery

    Selected project descriptions

    Communicating uncertainty associated with decision-making

    Decisions about how to manage fishery resources have implications for the health of both marine ecosystems and the human communities and economies that rely on them. Ideally, such decisions should be made in a transparent way that recognizes the consequences of policy options for a range of management objectives. Structured decision making approaches such as “Management Strategy Evaluation” use public participation and computer simulation modeling to compare the robustness and performance of management alternatives. The models included in these methods try to characterize the dynamics of ecosystems and human activities (such as fishing) and predict the responses of these systems to management actions. Effectively communicating the results of these simulation methods is a known challenge for this field.

    The New England Fishery Management Council ( recently completed an analysis for the Atlantic herring fishery to test the performance of a candidate set of rules for determining the scientific advice used to help set quotas, or limits on the number of fish caught, recognizing the role of herring to humans and as food for other species within the Northeast U.S. marine ecosystem. PhD student Amanda Hart worked with the Council to develop a set of narratives and visual aids that describes and highlights the results of the Atlantic herring analyses. The project assisted Council members to compare the expected benefits and costs of management options, and also to help convey these results to a broader set of stakeholders as part of the public decision-making process. The work contributed to a draft environmental impact statement for the Atlantic herring fishery and developed infographics for the Council to use in outreach and education efforts on Atlantic herring fishery management.

    Principal staff: Amanda Hart
    Major collaborator: Deirdre Boelke, New England Fishery Management Council, Dr. Jonathan Deroba, NOAA Fisheries
    Funding: New England Fishery Management Council

    Investigating the productivity and ecology of sand habitats

    Offshore sand features are important habitat for some species of forage fishes, but ecosystem implications of habitat alteration (e.g. sand removal for beach nourishment) are poorly understood. Sand lance species are strongly dependent on sand habitat, and are a primary food source for many marine mammals, seabirds and larger commercial and recreational fishes. Work linking sand lance to the abundance and distribution of higher taxa is needed to understand these linkages and the physical and biological factors that drive and support them. This project seeks to provide information needed to assess how sand lance influence the productivity within Stellwagen Bank sand bank habitat, and what factors drive sand lance productivity and fluctuations in abundance and distribution. Dr. Tammy Silva, postdoctoral fellow, is working with scientists at NOAA’s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Office to analyze data on abundance and distribution of sand-dependent forage fish species to identify relationships with commercial fisheries and protected resources.

    Principal staff: Dr. Tammy Silva
    Major collaborator: Dr. David Wiley, NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
    Funding: NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries Office

    Evaluation of F-Based Management for the Recreational summer flounder fishery

    The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council is interested in understanding the likely performance of a set of management approaches for the recreational summer flounder fishery on the US east coast. We are using simulation modeling to test these management alternatives. Importantly, our project is aiming to characterize uncertainty in the effects of changes in management measures on recreational fisher behavior, catch, and harvest to demonstrate implications for achieving management objectives and to understand the relative value of applying the different management options.

    Principal staff: Dr. Gavin Fay, Amanda Hart
    Major collaborator: Dr. Jason McNamee, Rhode Island Division of Environmental Management
    Funding: Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council