Justin Garritt: Fishing Begins aboard!!! September 7, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Garritt
NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
September 1-14, 2018

Mission: Hake Research

Geographical area of cruise: Seattle, Washington to Newport, Oregon

Date: September 7, 2018

Location: Just South of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Pacific Ocean

Back at Home: To the KIPP Baltimore community. . .  I got this picture from Madison and Anaiyah Alexander the other morning from the first day of school and thought of you all. I hope you are all surviving the heat wave sweeping across the east coast. I hope the first few weeks started off strong! I miss you all!


Where Are We? Our ship left the Seattle dock on Monday afternoon and calibrated in Elliott Bay for two days. Before leaving the bay, one of our Survey Technicians had a medical issue. He needed to be taken off the ship to get the treatment he needed. Before pulling up anchor to depart, we were able to bring him off the ship and over to the mainland using one of the small tender boats. Once the tender returned, we left the bay on Wednesday at 16:00 (4pm) and started to sail out of  Puget Sound and Admiralty Inlet. On Thursday morning we stopped at Port Angeles to pick up Scott, our new Survey Technician. At 11:00am, we departed through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and into the Pacific Ocean. Once we got out of the Strait and into the ocean, the sea got rougher and fog appeared. Throughout the journey, we sailed at about 11 knots until we got to the area Chief Scientist, Rebecca Thomas, gave orders to sail to.

It was impressive how quick NOAA acted in order to get a new survey technician aboard. In less than 24 hours they notified someone from the NOAA augmenting pool (like a substitute teacher pool) and we had Scott aboard. Scott got a call yesterday mid-day and had to drive all the way from Portland, Oregon to a smaller city on the coast of the Pacific Ocean called Port Angeles to meet the ship. The ship pulled close to port, sent in a small tender boat to pick Scott up, and then he came aboard. It was remarkable how quick NOAA had to act to replace our survey technician and impressive how flexible people like Scott (who are in the augmenting pool) have to be to make sure the mission continues.

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How and What We Fish? NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada was delivered to NOAA in 2010. The ship is the fourth Fisheries Survey Vessels (FSV) built by NOAA starting in 2003. FSV’s were built to introduce a low level of sound and vibration in their surrounding waters. The acoustics detect and measure the distribution of fish and other living marine life and describe their habitat. The transducer transmits a sound pulse (ping) which bounces off of different things beneath the ocean.


Depending on the ship’s mission, acoustic transducers help determine the abundance of fish and invertebrate species. These readings help derive population estimates of marine life to set harvest rates for commercial fisherman. The acoustic transducer also provides  the chance to study the spatial and temporal patterns of the fish so we can analyze their habitat choice, predator-prey interactions and food web dynamics.  This technology offers our incredible scientists aboard the ability to monitor fish populations without altering their behavior. It also gives biologists and oceanographers the ability to provide analyses to better assist marine resource managers in making more informed decisions without actually catching the fish. This technology could save an abundance of time, energy, and resources. 

A picture of the acoustic transducer below the ship.

Hydroacoustics also has limitations and is not the solution to all sampling problems. The technique has difficulty differentiating between species, and limited ability to measure fish close to the surface and close to the bottom.  Therefore, hydroacoustics is mostly used alongside traditional trawling.

The main organism we are looking at is the Pacific hake. It is the largest single-species fishery on the west coast (not including Alaska). The United States has made over $40 million annually from Pacific hake since 2008. They prey upon euphasuiids, pandalid shrimp, and many fish such as herring. Hake are prey for predators such as tuna, sharks, and marine mammals. Hake are an essential part of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem as shown by this food web.

6122180In the United States hake is most commonly used to make imitation crab, fish sticks, and cat food.  It sells for a very low amount per pound. When I searched “hake” on the Walmart app, no hake filet came up in the United States. However, when I looked at the ingredients label on their seafood salad, hake was listed. Most Pacific hake are exported to Asia and Russia and bring in excellent revenue for our citizens who live on the North Pacific northwest. The scientific work done by people aboard ships like NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada helps to ensure that the population of Pacific hake and other species thrive and can provide food and revenue for future generations to come.

Here is the process the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada goes through when “fishing” and analyzing the catch (pictures of all the steps are below).

  1. The science team, led by the Chief Scientist, analyzes the data being recorded by the acoustic transducers.
  2. They communicate where they want to drop the fishing nets to the captain and officers standing by at the bridge.
  3. The officers communicate to the deck hands to drop the net.
  4. The science team carefully stands by and watches the computer monitors. They give orders to the officers on how far down the net should go and when to pick up the net based on their computer screens.
  5. The deck hands reel in the net.
  6. The deck hands drop the catch in the hopper.
  7. The fish is sorted by species (Pacific Hake, Rock fish, Pollock, etc)  on a conveyor belt by four scientists and scientific volunteers.
  8. Assessments are taken on the hake using the chart below. Some fish are weighed and sent back, ~250 random hake in the batch are assessed by weight and sex, and ~30 hakes receive an enhanced assessment for length, weight, sex, and maturity.


Getting to Know the Crew: I have been overwhelmed by the kindness, sense of community, and sense of service the crew have had aboard the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. Every professional on board has been willing to answer all the questions I ask and seem eager to share information about their lives with me. Every crew member has welcomed me aboard their home with a smile and willingness to do anything to make my experience the best it can be. I have and will continue to interview a few members of the crew or science team over the next few blog posts. Here are the first two:

Dr. Rebecca Thomas, Chief Scientist

Rebecca is the leader of all the scientific efforts aboard. Her, alongside our ship’s captain help to ensure the primary goals set by NOAA are carried out to the best of their ability. Rebecca is married and has two young girls at home.  She graduated from Duke University and then went on to MIT for her doctorate in Biological Oceanography. She works for NOAA half-time at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and she loves her job. She can even bike to work when she is not researching on a ship. Her first NOAA mission was in 2002 and she has worked mostly with hake during her time out to sea.

Chief Scientist Rebecca Thomas

While many contemplate for years to figure out what career path they want to head in, Rebecca knew what she wanted to do when she was seven. It is obvious that the most difficult part of her role with NOAA is leaving her kids when she is out at sea researching. I got to witness her having to say goodbye to her kids in port and her kids were devastated and wouldn’t let go. They just love their mom.

Her love for science is obvious and contagious. I asked her what advice she would give middle school science enthusiasts back in Baltimore and she said, “Take lots of math classes. You need that strong foundation, especially statistics.” As a mathematics teacher, this of course made me smile:-)

As my direct supervisor aboard, Rebecca has been an asset to my experience thus far. When I first got aboard her only instruction to me was, “Just ask as many questions as you can.” Even during hectic times aboard she always takes her time to explain to me what is happening. She leads through expertise and she looks out for her team’s safety. She makes sure everyone sleeps and eats despite the long hours and she delegates her team’s strengths well. She has made me feel like a valuable member of the science team, despite my lack of science knowledge, and will stay up a few extra minutes in the evening to proofread my blog. She does all this while keeping her eyes on the goals of the research cruise.

Charlie Donahue, Volunteer Scientist and my Roommate


Charlie is a volunteer from Oregon State University.  He is a junior biology major with a marine focus. It is Charlie’s first time on a ship.

Both of Charlie’s parents are biologists and teach at Central Washington University. Charlie’s first interest in science began when he was a kid. He loved dinosaurs and thought he would become a paleontologist. As he got older he realized he was most interested in the biological side of science. A few years back, Charlie and his family took a trip to Alaska and visited Kenai Fjords National Park. He described a moment aboard a boat with an abundance of marine wildlife surrounding him. He mentioned the noise and scene of hundreds of birds surrounding him. This is when he realized he wanted to narrow his scientific studies to marine life.

As a current college student, Charlie gave some great advice to future scientists to my class back in Baltimore who may be reading this. He said, “If you know you love science but are unsure of what specific type of science you want to study, then majoring in chemistry, biology, mathematics, or physics are all good bases for which you can explore and then specialize after.” He also said that his father gave him great employment advice which was to get some real life experience under his belt after earning a bachelor’s degree. He suggested to Charlie to get real-life experience before moving on with higher education because it will make him more marketable to future employers.

Charlie is still exploring what type of career path he want to move towards, which is one of the main reason’s he volunteered as a scientist aboard the ship. This is Charlie’s first time on a research vessel and he loves the food aboard and appreciates the structure of the day. Wake up, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are very set every day.

On a side note, Charlie has been a great roommate and is extremely clean and tidy, for a college student 🙂 He is keeping busy on his off time writing a story, writing comics, and working on his artistic side making designs with his latch-hook kit.


Thank you for continuing to follow along in this journey. I am grateful for your support. My next blog should be posted on Tuesday, September 11, 2018.





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