Carmen Andrews: A Fishing Expedition in the Atlantic, July 11, 2012


NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – July 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida
Date: July 11, 2012

Latitude: 29 ° 55.96’   N
Longitude: 80 ° 31.29’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 27.6°C (81.7°F)
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: from S
Surface Water Temperature: 28.12 °C (82.6°F)
Weather conditions: Fair

Science and Technology Log

Catching bottom fish at the reef

Pulling in a successful catch of reef fish provides scientists with an important sampling source of fish numbers and species diversity.

A good catch of scamp and gray triggerfish

A good catch of scamp and gray triggerfish

The process requires a systematic and complex capture protocol. As with any well-designed science investigation, the equipment needs to be robust and the sequence of steps in the process of fish takings must be followed with consistency. The methods and materials are kept as similar as possible in multiple sites over a wide area.

The area to be sampled is mapped out in advance with electronic navigation tools.

Nobeltech Map

Electronic Nobeltech Map display used to plan sampling sites for the reef fish survey

This habitat is where the targeted fish species – red and vermillion snapper, gray triggerfish, black sea bass, red porgy, scamp, squirrelfish, almaco jack and amberjack, among others – are most likely found.

Chevron fish traps are used to trap fish for scientific study. Fish trapping using these devices is not permitted by sport or commercial fishermen. When the traps are received from manufacturers, they are not rigged sufficiently to withstand the rigors of trapping fish near undersea ledge formations.

Traps are sometimes snagged on nearby ledges as they are hoisted toward the boat. The side where the cable is attached must be reinforced using a rebar rod to avoid deforming and possibly rupturing the trap.

David and Shelly attaching rebar to side of trap

David and Shelly attaching rebar to the side of a trap

Heavy metal ballast weights are fixed to the bottom of the traps and cable attachments are added on the reinforced side.

David and Adam P. are attaching cable hook ups to the side of a trap

David and Adam P. are attaching cable hook ups to the side of a trap

The trap’s wire lattice is cut at the top to create small openings for stringers (cords with attached wooden blocks) that dangle bait fish inside the trap. A larger opening is cut on one side of the trap to function as an escape hatch for trapped fish if the trap becomes unretrievably wedged at the bottom.

Shelly affixing zinc pop-ups

Shelly is affixing zinc pop-ups to the lost trap fish exit

Four stringers, each with four menhaden bait fish are tied and suspended into each trap’s quadrants, and attached to the trap bottom with a clasp. Additional menhaden are scattered on the floor of each trap.

Menhaden bait fish

Menhaden bait fish

Underwater video cameras are attached above the entrance of the trap and on the opposite side. The entrance camera monitors fish that may be entering the trap. The other camera allows scientists examine the habitat near the trap and to note other species in the vicinity.

Nate and Shelly are mounting underwater video cameras

Nate and Shelly are mounting underwater video cameras

The traps are readied for deployment on the stern of the R/V Savannah. A horn blast from the wheel house signals when the boat is positioned over the reef coordinates.

Nate Bacheler and Capt. Sweatte

Captain Sweatte, at left is piloting the R/V Savannah, while Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler signals to the stern when to drop a fish trap.

The trap is pushed off the back deck and sinks to the bottom.

Shelly and me dropping a fish trap from the stern of the R/V Savannah

Shelly and I are dropping a fish trap from the stern of the R/V Savannah

Two floating numbered “poly balls” are clipped to each trap. They are released one by one after the trap goes down. Six pairs of poly balls function as buoys to mark the pick-up location of each trap.

Poly ball buoys marking location of fish traps

Poly ball buoys marking location of fish traps

After all the traps are in place, a CTD is lowered over the side of the boat to determine conductivity, temperature and depth, as well as salinity, of the fish sampling site. CTD data is transmitted and stored electronically in the dry lab.

CTD submerging

CTD is being lowered to measure conductivity, temperature and salinity of the area where fish traps have been set

Ninety minutes after they are dropped, the fish traps are raised in the order in which they were laid.

Personal Log

Last night scientists and crew were line fishing for reef fish to supplement the trapped specimens. There were some amazing fish catches using the rods and reels off the stern of the R/V Savannah. I didn’t catch any fish, but I did manage to catch some amazing nighttime pictures of the activity with my camera.

Adam L. reeling in a hammerhead shark

Adam L. reeling in a hammerhead shark

Hammerhead being reeled to the surface

Hammerhead being reeled to the surface

Hammerhead shark breaking the surface of the water

Hammerhead shark breaking the surface of the water

Hammerhead being cut from fishing line for release

Hammerhead being cut from fishing line for release

Scientists and boat crew fishing the reef

Scientists and boat crew fishing the reef

First mate Pete holding a red snapper he just caught

First mate Pete holding a red snapper he just caught

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s