Analysis and Interpretation of Freshwater Fisheries Data

8: Abundance, Biomass, and Production

Daniel B. Hayes, James R. Bence, Thomas J. Kwak, and Bradley E. Thompson


Fisheries scientists face a challenge in that virtually all methods of fish capture or observation are selective. Further, most fish capture methods can be applied to only a fraction of the entire area of interest. Thus, measures such as catch per unit effort (C/f) or catch per area can only be regarded, at best, as being proportional to the true population abundance (see Chapter 7). The methods presented in this chapter are designed to address these problems and provide estimates of absolute abundance or “true” fish density. In general, these methods require additional sampling beyond that required to estimate relative abundance. As such, careful consideration should be given to whether relative measures of abundance are adequate or if the need for estimates of absolute abundance justifies the additional cost.

In many cases, relative abundance is sufficient to answer important research or management questions. One example is when the principal goal is to determine if abundance has changed over time. As long as vulnerability to the gear remains constant over time, trends in C/f can accurately indicate changes in abundance (see Chapter 7). In such cases, the extra effort required to determine absolute abundance is better spent in sampling more sites. In general, estimates of absolute abundance are needed when catchability is likely to vary across time or between sampling sites, confounding comparisons of C/f across space or time. Absolute abundance estimates are also important when harvest quotas are being computed.