Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Maine, II: precision of sampling designs in estimating seasonal abundance accounting for tuna behaviour
A primary challenge of animal surveys is to understand how to reliably sample populations exhibiting strong spatial heterogeneity. Building upon recent findings from survey, tracking and tagging data, we investigate spatial sampling of a seasonally resident population of Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Maine, Northwestern Atlantic Ocean. We incorporate empirical estimates to parameterize a stochastic population model and simulate measurement designs to examine survey efficiency and precision under variation in tuna behaviour. We compare results for random, systematic, stratified, adaptive and spotter-search survey designs, with spotter-search comprising irregular transects that target surfacing schools and known aggregation locations (i.e., areas of expected high population density) based on a priori knowledge. Results obtained show how survey precision is expected to vary on average with sampling effort, in agreement with general sampling theory and provide uncertainty ranges based on simulated variance in tuna behaviour. Simulation results indicate that spotter-search provides the highest level of precision, however, measurable bias in observer-school encounter rate contributes substantial uncertainty. Considering survey bias, precision, efficiency and anticipated operational costs, we propose that an adaptive-stratified sampling alone or a combination of adaptive-stratification and spotter-search (a mixed-layer design whereby a priori information on the location and size of school aggregations is provided by sequential spotter-search sampling) may provide the best approach for reducing uncertainty in seasonal abundance estimates.