Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Fisheries have become increasingly important to manage and conserve, and this is particularly challenging for data-poor species. Elasmobranchs are commonly considered data-poor or data-limited species. Their life history characteristics make their populations susceptible to depletion from fishing pressures and habitat degradation. Thus, it is important to understand the movement patterns and habitat use of the targeted species as well as the models used in the stock assessment for the species. This thesis involves developing techniques and information for data-poor species, such as elasmobranchs. The objectives of this research were to 1) identify the wintering grounds for the cownose rays (Rhinoptera bonasus) from Chesapeake Bay, 2) determine summer and fall movement patterns for this species, and 3) understand how changes in the data input (i.e., catch and effort) affect the parameter estimates from a simple surplus production model. Cownose rays have received negative attention in Chesapeake Bay for presumably heavy predation on commercial shellfish. Although the population size is unknown, there are concerns about the increase in abundance of this species, resulting in the need for management to control its population size. However, there are many questions regarding the movement patterns and habitat use for cownose rays, particularly for males. A total of 16 cownose rays in Chesapeake Bay were tagged with pop-up satellite archival tags (PSATs) to determine their wintering grounds and summer and fall movement patterns. Six tags (3 on females and 3 on males) were released on the programmed date and contained data on temperature, pressure (for depths) and light-level (for geolocations). The end locations from the satellite tags indicated that both sexes migrated to the coastal waters of central Florida for the winter. Females were exited Chesapeake Bay at the end of September and early October and migrated south to Florida. Males left the bay at the end of July and traveled northward to a second feeding ground in the coastal waters of southern New England. At the end of summer and early fall, the males made the southerly migration down the coast to Florida. There were no diel differences detected; however, male rays occupied a wider depth and temperature range compared to females. Data-poor stocks are often regulated based on surplus production models when only catch and effort data are available. However, reported catch and effort rarely equal the true values. Reported data may not include bycatch, illegal fishing or local consumption, resulting in higher true catch and effort values than that reported. I used ASPIC (A Surplus Production Model Incorporating Covariates) software to examine the viii PREVIEW effects of underestimated catch and effort on parameter and ratio estimates (e.g., MSY, F/Fmsy and B/Bmsy) in a production model. Using three example fisheries, I determined that a fishery with constant underestimation of catch and effort over time can be managed based on the parameter estimates from the production model. The parameter estimates either yielded no errors or were underestimated by the same percentage as the underreported data; however, the ratios of parameter estimates were free of error due to cancellation of errors. Trends in underestimation of catch and effort (e.g., improved reporting rates or increased illegal fishing) caused the errors in the estimates from the production model to be highly variable and scenario-dependent. Consequently, if underreporting of catch and effort is suspected, I would recommend conducting additional simulations specific to the fishery.



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