David Knight: All about the Fish! July 21, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Knight

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 10-23, 2018

 Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey

Geographic Area: Southeastern U.S. coast

Date: July 21, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 29° 11.4
Longitude: 80
° 25.3
Sea wave height: 2-4 ft
Wind speed: 14 kts
Wind direction: 241
Visibility: 10 nm
Air temperature: 26.0
Barometric pressure: 1011.8 mb
Sky: Overcast

Science and Technology Log

SEFIS Leg 2 Science Crew (left to right): Julia Reynolds, Rob Cheshire, Dave Hoke, Brad Teer, John Brusher, Nate Bacheler, Anne Markwith, Christina Schobernd, Zach Gillium, and David Knight (photo taken by Todd Walsh)

As I have only a couple more days aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces, I have begun to reflect on what I have learned and experienced, and am grateful for the chance to further develop as a scientist and educator. From my first day on board, the scientists have been willing to mentor and teach me about the role they play in the conservation of marine fisheries, and have patiently answered my many questions and taught me techniques I did not previously know. The science crew includes NOAA scientists from labs in Beaufort, the Outer Banks and Panama City, as well as scientists from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF).  Although these men and woman have a common interest in studying fish and their population dynamics, the routes that they have taken to get to their present job are diverse and examples of determination and drive, being at the right place and the right time, and most importantly, pursuing something that you are truly passionate about.

Anne M. of North Carolina Department of Marine Fisheries (photo by David Knight)

The scientists attribute their choice of careers to a lifetime of enjoying the natural world, fishing and hunting as a youth, and an interest in conservation. Anne M. of the NCDMF recalls attending a marine science summer camp during middle school that piqued her interest in aquatic life, Dave H. of NOAA spent a lot of time outdoors growing up in Texas and set up aquariums as a kid, John B. of NOAA followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a marine biologist, and Julia R. of the SCDNR vacationed on and around the ocean most of her life so working in fisheries seemed like a natural fit.  All of the scientists on board have advanced degrees in Marine Biology or Biology with an emphasis in fisheries and more than one has served our country by being in the armed services. Each person has a story to tell about the many paths and detours that eventually led them to a career in fisheries. No one moved from college directly to NOAA; each scientist attributes their current position to being open to new opportunities and forming genuine, professional relationships with coworkers. The road to NOAA has been long in some cases and is paved with unique experiences, each offering new skills and a chance to learn. Zach G. scraped barnacles from acoustic sensors and buoys, Rob C. scrubbed tanks used to raise brine shrimp, Brad T. worked in marsh restoration in Delaware Bay, Christina S. trudged through mud to study shrimp, John B. tagged sharks and has helped map Oculina coral reefs, and Dave H. trapped snakes and turtles in Louisiana.  Each person would tell you that no matter how difficult these jobs may have been, they played an important part in their journey.  Through it all, each continually pursued their passion and were willing to be adaptable.

John B. and Dave H. are port agents, sampling fish that are brought in by commercial fisherman in Florida and North Carolina. Over the years they have formed relationships with the fisherman in their region and are responsible for collecting data as fish come off the boats into a fish house, measuring specific species and removing otoliths. Each collect fishery dependent data that, when taken together with the fishery independent data like that being gathered today on NOAA Ship Pisces, is used to create population models of fish such as king mackerel, grouper, and snapper species.  Todd W. uses his skills as a hydrographer to create detailed images of the seafloor and operates the CTD to gather valuable physical chemistry data on a site so that the physical and biological data can be amalgamated. Christina S. loves good data. As a member of the SEFIS group in Beaufort, Christina is responsible for taking all of the data that are collected throughout the various surveys and making sure it is useful for modeling. Her field experience in a number of agencies throughout the country has given her the ability to understand how best to gather, process and store data to make it useful. Once data have been collected, Rob C. works hard to make sure that the best science available is used for modeling.  His innovative and informative statistics serve as a resource to researchers and fisheries commissions that ultimately create state and federal policies and programs.  As state fisheries scientists in North and South Carolina one would assume that Anne M. and Julia R. have similar jobs, however, they both have very different roles in their respective agencies.  Anne M. is primarily involved in independent sampling; gathering data from gill netting, trawls, and seines that then play a role in stock assessments for certain species in North Carolina waters.  Julia R. collects gonad samples, looking for cellular clues to help determine the gender of certain species (remember, some transition from female to male) and the sex ratio of a particular population. Both play a role in helping the public understand state and federal regulations and for conducting research to help create state fisheries management plans. The point of all of this is to demonstrate to you, my students and readers, that a degree in biology can be just the beginning of an interesting and rewarding career in science.

Zach G. of NOAA holding a Red Grouper (Epinephelus morio)   (photo by David Knight)

Being outside in the field or on the sea, studying wildlife and seeing new fish or animals drives most of them, and is the reason they enjoy what they do.  While the fish may be the same, the behavior or the habitats they study are different. Additionally, being able to travel and meeting lots of interesting, diverse people with a similar interest is rewarding.  Like any career, there are drawbacks. Being in a field that is driven by state or federal politics does create challenges. While a team my sample and analyze vast amounts of data and generate scientifically sound conclusions, sometimes stakeholders determine that the sciences does not reflect their interests, therefore, they want to reject or ignore the findings. Furthermore, sufficient funding is a constant issue. Being away from your family, tedious paperwork like filling out government timecards, and typical “office politics” are never fun no matter where you work, although Zach G.’s dislike of splicing lines may be unique to his choice of career!

Chief Scientist. Dr. Nate Bacheler

As coordinator of SEFIS (SouthEast Fishery Independent Survey), Dr. Nate Bacheler wears many hats. As a research scientist, Nate is interested in how best to survey fish using traps and cameras in order to improve the data that are used to make stock assessments. Like others, his transit (to use a nautical term) to NOAA was indirect and includes stops in Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, and Wisconsin.  Having always enjoyed the outdoors and biology, he was fortunate to work with professors and advisors that gave him a firm foundation in conservation biology and helped him to know the right questions to ask and cultivated in him an inquisitive nature and strong desire to learn. Nate has studied nesting behavior in largemouth bass, conducted research into the diet and reproduction of freshwater fish in Puerto Rico, and implanted transmitters in fish. Like the other scientists I have been fortunate to work with as a Teacher at Sea, Nate is passionate about what he does and cannot see himself doing anything but studying marine fish. For Dr. Bacheler and all of the scientists I have gotten to know and work with the past two weeks, It’s All About the Fish.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: