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Great Annual Fish Count

Fish Count divers

The first official Great American Fish Count dive in the Gulf of Maine was sponsored by the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary on July 1, 2001 in Marshfield, MA. The group used fish identification photo ID cards, underwater paper and other materials produced by REEF in conjunction with the Sanctuary. The divers taking part in this event were (left to right): Steve Neuger, Bob Michelson, Andy Martinez, Bob Murray, Chris Ostrom, and Candace Martinez. SBNMS photo.

The Great Annual Fish Count is to divers and fish what the Christmas bird count is to birdwatchers and birds. Each July, divers across the country, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, along with counters in Central and South America, and Canada, venture into the water to count the variety and numbers of fishes in their localities. This information is filed with the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) in a detailed database that can be searched by counter's name, species, dive site, or date.


GAFC is a national, central organizing event that mobilizes and trains volunteer divers and snorkelers in established methodologies to identify and document fish diversity and population trends in marine sanctuaries and coastal areas. This annual month-long event serves both to introduce and inspire recreational divers and snorkelers to: participate in year-round volunteer monitoring programs; raise awareness among both the diving community and public-at-large regarding marine habitats and trends in fish populations; and provide researchers, marine resource managers and policy-makers with this useful information that would otherwise be unavailable.

REEF coordinates the GAFC with support from the National Marine Sanctuaries. To find out more about the GAFC, REEF or the fish database, visit REEF's web site. For divers interested in fish counting, here's how you can get involved:

Attend a Training Seminar

Divers are encouraged to attend training sessions in fish identification. Several seminars have been offered in communities around New England throughout the year. Check our Calendar listings for Fish ID classes.

Organize a Survey Dive

After taking a fishwatching course, dives are encouraged to conduct a fish survey on their next dive. Waterproof paper for underwater recording of data are available free of charge from the sanctuary and REEF. Dive stores and groups are encouraged to organize and conduct group survey dives or adopt a site to visit on a regular basis.

Submit Your Data

All fish survey data needs to be submitted on the computer-readable SCANTRON forms. These are also available from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and REEF.

View Your Data

All volunteer survey data, collected during the GAFC or otherwise, are uploaded onto the REEF web site. Click here to visit the Fish Database.


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