Mapping Benthic Habitat on the West Florida Shelf Using Multibeam Acoustics and Towed Underwater Video to Improve Fisheries Science and Management

Alexander Ross Ilich1, Jennifer L Brizzolara2, Sarah Grasty1, John W Gray2, Matthew Hommeyer1, Chad Lembke1, Stanley D Locker1, Alex Silverman1, Theodore Switzer3, Abigail Vivlamore1 and Steven A Murawski1, (1)University of South Florida, College of Marine Science, St Petersburg, FL, United States, (2)The Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO), MS, United States, (3)Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, St Petersburg, FL, United States
The West Florida Shelf (WFS) is an extremely important area for both commercial and recreational fisheries. However, the lack of habitat maps in this area makes planning fisheries independent monitoring surveys difficult, and hinders the ability to manage and monitor fish stocks and ecosystems over time. As of 2015, only 5% of the WFS had been mapped in high resolution using a multibeam echosounder with little effort expended to infer and verify habitat type.

In 2015, The Continental Shelf Characterization, Assessment, and Mapping Project (C-SCAMP) began using a multibeam echosounder and towed underwater video to map benthic habitats and improve our understanding of fish-habitat relationships on the WFS. For this study, high resolution multibeam bathymetry and co-registered backscatter data were collected and processed. A portion of these areas were then “ground-truthed” using towed video transects to assess habitat type and identify fish. Habitat maps were created using a statistical classification model that predicts benthic habitat type based on the acoustic signature. Progress towards a unified habitat map of the West Florida Shelf will be presented including habitat interpretation of multibeam surfaces collected by other groups prior to this project, particularly focusing on those within Marine Protected Areas. Applications of the resultant habitat maps for fisheries management will be demonstrated and discussed.