NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker
May 31 – June 11, 2018
Mission: Rockfish recruitment and assessment survey
Geographic Range: California Coast
Date: June 8, 2018
Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 36° 43.508′ N
Longitude: 121° 52.950′ W
Wind: 30.87 knots from the SE
Air Temperature: 12.7°
Waves: 2-3 feet with 6-8 foot swells
Science and Technology Log
We moved up north to continue with our trawls. The first night we trawled just north of Monterey Bay. It was a good thing we did because outside the bay, the wind and swells are rough. We saw lots of jellyfish and lots of krill in our catches. However, I would like to talk a little about a very specific group of fish, rockfish. If you read the mission above, you will recall that rockfish are the primary focus of this survey. Therefore, I think they need a moment in the spotlight to themselves.
While this number may vary, NOAA has over 60 species of rockfish listed on the West Coast. They are an intriguing group of fish for many reasons. First, it is important to note that they are extremely significant to their food web because they are a prey species, but they are also important as a food and income source for humans. Species like the bocaccio rockfish and the yelloweye rockfish are species of concern due to over fishing, and populations are slow to recover. That is enough reason to learn as much possible about these fish.
What we know about rockfish species is they can live for a long time. Many can live over 50 years, some can even live over 100 years of age! Their growth rate is relatively slow, and very few make it to adulthood because they are prey for other fish. During the first year (sometimes more depending on the species), they spend much of their time in the pelagic realm (open water). If they live long enough, they can grow to a size that allows them to settle in the benthic zone (ocean floor). For many species, 60 mm is a large enough size to settle. This is what the term “recruitment” refers to. Once rockfish settle out of the pelagic zone, they have a higher chance of reaching reproductive maturity.
NOAA Fisheries has been surveying the West Coast for rockfish since 1983. They first started in a smaller region from Monterey Bay to Point Reyes, CA. The survey area expanded in 2004 and by 2013 it covered the entire coast of California. The success of the local ecosystem and the commercial fisheries depend on healthy fish populations. The survey tries to collect at least 100 specimens per species of rockfish and take them back to the lab (on land). Back at the lab the species identifications are determined as many rockfish are difficult to identify to species at this life history stage without using a microscope. In addition, their size is recorded and tissue samples taken for genetic studies. Then, on select species, otoliths are removed to age the specimens. The otolith is an ear bone. In fish, the ear bone deposits layers of bone in rings. It happens daily and these daily rings can be counted using a microscope to learn how old the fish is. These ages are used by scientists not only to learned how old the fish are, but they can compare this information to the size data collected and estimate the expected size of a fish at any given age.
I had a chance to talk to everyone from the night shift science team about what they do and how they came to work for NOAA:
Keith Sakuma has been working with the survey since 1989. He is the chief scientist and team leader of the night crew. He works hard to make sure we are all focused and efficient because it is a fast-paced work environment. In between hauls, he enjoys the company of his team and a few Dragon Ball episodes. He was born and raised in Hawaii, and went to University of Hawaii for his Bachelor’s degree in Zoology. In his younger years, Keith worked for the Division of Aquatic Resources, where he spent his days walking up and down the beach to count fisherman and interview them about their catches for the day. He also did snorkel surveys doing fish counts in fisheries management areas. In addition, he worked on a team that implemented fish aggregating devices, buoys that attract fish for the local fisherman.
While at the University of Hawaii, he was part of the Marine Option program where they teach you various marine skills and connect you with marine research activities. Through this program he completed his scientific diving training, and then participated in two diving surveys. Both surveys documented the impacts of tourism on the reef systems on the island of Lanai Island and Molokini, which is a tiny islet off Maui. On Molokini, tourist traveling to the islet by boat, dropping anchor in the reef, caused a significant amount of damage to the reef. Mitigation included the addition of moorings so boats could tie up and not have to drop anchor, destroying more of the reef.
For his Master’s, he attended San Francisco State University. His major advisor just returned from a 2-year sabbatical, working with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) [also known as NOAA Fisheries] on the mid water trawl survey, and suggested that Keith do his Master’s Thesis on the data he collected on the survey. While finishing his Master’s degree, he was offered a full-time position working with NMFS, and has been here ever since. That means he has 29 years put into this work.
Growing up in Hawaii near the ocean definitely influenced his decision to pursue Marine Science. He used to say to others how much he loved the ocean and that the ocean loved him back. He couldn’t wait to spend time at the beach in the water. And while today this remains true, he has mentioned that that cold waters of Pacific Coast are not as affectionate as the warm waters of Hawaii. The water around the islands is so clear, allowing one to see at a distance the beauty that lies beneath. Here, you must pick the right day at the right time to find tolerable temperatures and some visibility. The murkiness makes it hard to see anything, but that murkiness is what contributes to the productivity of the region.
Even after 29 years, Keith still very much enjoys being at sea. He doesn’t get sea sick, so he can spend time working in the field with real specimens and real-time data rather than just analyzing data collected by other people. He enjoys seeing new people come on and get excited about the work. For anyone interested in pursuing Marine Biology and any research science, it is important to have a strong background in math and statistics, especially in today’s world. He also mentioned how important it is to have computer skills and programming skills. The software used to process and analyze data requires one to read and write programming language. Having these skills make one a stronger candidate when applying for research positions. It also gives one more validity when having to speak about and defend the analysis of the research.
That’s Keith, the Chief Scientist, in a nutshell. I also got to learn more about the rest of the team. Thomas Adams has been working with this survey for 5 years now. He started as a volunteer with NMFS, analyzing marine chlorophyll samples. He always had an interest in Marine Biology, and already had a connection to someone working in a NOAA lab. He was invited to work on the rockfish survey because he was known for being a knowledgeable and efficient worker. He too is very enthusiastic and really enjoys being at sea with Keith and the rest of the team. He is the main provider of Dragon Ball, and the Simpsons, which the team enjoys in between trawls. He recently completed his Bachelor’s degree and plans to go for his Master’s in Marine Biology in the near future.
Melissa Monk is a Research Mathematical Statistician, and is responsible for fisheries stock assessments for West Coast near shore ground fish. She also participates in research related to improving fisheries. Her schedule is on a bi-annual cycle. One year is devoted to stock assessment, and the next year is devoted to research. During stock assessment years, there is a mad dash that happens around September to learn anything and everything about your assigned species. At the end of the assessment season, there is a week-long panel review of all the data gathered during the assessment. Once the assessment is approved, the information is used for species management and harvest regulations. She received her undergrad in Wildlife Sciences with a minor in Statistics. Her Master’s was in fisheries. She spent half her year monitoring the sea turtle populations in North Carolina, and the other half of the year in classes. She did a lot of quantitative work, research, and recruitment training for her Master’s. She also had a connection to NOAA because her PhD advisor at LSU used to work for NOAA. She learned that NOAA trained people to become stock assessors, and pursued fisheries as a career. Her favorite part about working for NOAA is that her work directly impacts fisheries success.
Rebecca Miller is a GIS Specialist, works on a variety of projects at the Santa Cruz NOAA lab. One project is the spatial mapping of rockfish and other marine species. She maps California fisheries catches in both time and space, and is able to analyze this data as far back as the 1930’s. Her Master’s degree is from Oregon State University in Fisheries Sciences with a minor in Geography. She knew since 6th grade that she wanted to be a Fisheries Biologist. She participated in internships and part-time summer jobs in freshwater salmon fisheries, marine intertidal work, and geodatabase management. She loves the people she works with, and the fact the work is so diverse. There is a lot of field work, lots of data analyses, and different projects to work on. She too enjoys knowing that her work helps to sustain fisheries to be both utilized and conserved.
Stephanie Oakes is from NOAA Fisheries Office of Science and Technology (OST). She got her Ph D. in Marine Sciences, and worked on Antarctic krill in an ecosystem context. The rockfish survey is similar in the sense the it also surveys species in an ecosystem context. Being able to participate in surveys like this is important to her because she gets to experience first had what happens during the surveys and how the team operates. Her personal gratification is that she gets her hands in the catch, in the field like she did for her Ph.D. NOAA Fisheries OST is there to advocate and ensure sound scientific basis for NOAA Fisheries science programs and resource conservation and management decisions.
Did you know…
Here are some of the species we found during our trawls:
- Adult and young of year (YOY) anchovy
- Adult and YOY sardine
- Jack Mackerel
- Northern Lamp fish
- Mexican lamp fish
- California Lamp fish
- Blue lantern fish
- Northern smoothtongue
- Black smelt
- Pacific Hake
- Pacific Sanddab
- Speckled Sanddab
- CO Turbot
- Black-bellied dragon fish
- High fin dragon fish
- Market squid
- Gonatus squid
- Boreal squid
- Electric Ray
- Wolf Eel
- Pacific Sea Nettle
- Purple striped jelly
- Moon Jelly
- Pelagic Red Crabs