The portal, funded by and created under the AtlantOS Atlantic ocean observation and monitoring project, aims at standardizing and quality controlling acoustic and biotic data collected on national acoustic trawl surveys in the northeast Atlantic and Baltic Sea. Two categories of information are hosted: echosounder readings and pelagic zone net trawls. Combined, this will result in key biological data on fish stocks such as herring, mackerel and blue whiting as well as krill and other prey species.
Harmonizing the way in which data are stored and analysed, the portal represents a common hub where data from all ICES survey groups are stored. This signals a move away from the different practices that currently exist among the groups.
Standard data and metadata vocabularies have also been implemented, with ICES now hosting common vocabularies through SeaDataNet and having set up validation through the use of XML Schema and Schematron.
The portal is the result of cooperation across the whole ICES area, taking in efforts from survey working groups such as those on international pelagic survey (WGIPS) and Baltic international fish surveys (WGBIFS), as well as on Baltic fisheries assessments (WGBFAS) and southern horse mackerel, anchovy, and sardine (WGHANSA), in conjunction with ICES Data Centre.
Incoming chair of WGBIFS Olavi Kaljuste, whose group are about to begin using the database, expanded on the benefits of moving to the new system.
"Currently, national computerization methods follow a very robust protocol for estimating fish abundance, which allows diverse implementations nationally. The national survey estimates by ICES statistical rectangles are then combined within sub-divisions into the final annual tuning indices. However, the current method for producing acoustic indices is not transparent and cannot be reproduced centrally."
"There has been a great need for such database for years. It will ensure that the standardized and quality-controlled scrutinized data from the acoustic trawl surveys will be stored centrally in a safe way. The new database allows us to use a number of sophisticated acoustic data post-processing software tools, which produce fish abundance estimations in a transparent and reproducible way. Additionally, the new portal enables easy access to the data, which will facilitate usage for many different analyses by a wider range of users. To give just one example, until now it was not possible to estimate the sampling variance and confidential intervals of the BIAS and BASS surveys, due to lack of a common database for less aggregated survey data."
Users of the new system are able to upload data according to the standards, with quality control mechanism ensuring that a report is sent back if submissions do not align with the standards. Data can then be downloaded before being post-processed using a number of tools, one of which is Stox – a tool developed by the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research (IMR) and also funded by AtlantOS. ICES currently supports output into such post-processing software, with work underway to provide future post-processing options through the Transparent Assessment Framework (TAF).
As well as fitting into AtlantOS' integrated observation system, the portal and associated standards reflect ICES continued efforts to collaborate across the Atlantic region.
The ongoing development of standards and work in acoustics stretches beyond the northern hemisphere, however, with this year's ICES Working Group on Fisheries Acoustics Science and Technology (WGFAST) meeting taking place in Nelson, New Zealand. WGFAST, a group which includes Australian and American representation, focuses on developing and applying science and technology for observing the marine environment, recently expanding its remit to include using acoustics to study marine ecosystems. The group has been developing standards for dealing with acoustic data, looking at what data can be recorded and used in the future.