NOAA Teacher at Sea
NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25– August 9, 2023
Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 30, 2023
Air Temperature: 27.5° C.
Wind Speed: 6.79 kph
Science and Technology Log: Longline Fishing
Teacher at Sea Stephen Kade created this graphic to help explain longline fishing.
We have started the longline survey and it is well organized and exciting. The first part of the process is called the set. We start the fishing process by baiting circle hooks. These hooks are attached to a 12 foot length of 3 mm line called a gangion (gan-jin). We use mackerel for bait. Each piece of fish is hooked through a circle hook.
Circle hooks ready for baiting
Next we drop over a buoy with a radar reflector on top called a hi flier. Attached to this is a 4 mm line called the main line. Then a weight is attached to the line and dropped. This anchors the beginning of the fishing line to the seafloor. Next, a numbered clip is attached to each gangion. The gangions are attached to the main line in order from 1- 50. A second weight is then attached to the main line and the process is repeated with gangions numbered 51- 100. A third weight is then attached to anchor this end of the line to the seafloor.
Tagging and attaching the gangions
Finally, a second hi flier buoy is attached and released to mark the end of the line. As each of these steps is done a member of the team records it on a computer. This gives a precise time that each baited hook went in the water as well as when and where the anchors and buoys were released.
Ready to drop the hi flyer
The next step is to take water measurements. This is done with a remarkable device called a CTD. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. Conductivity is related to how much salt is in the water (salinity) and is related to how well it will conduct electricity. It also measures the temperature and depth of the ocean at that spot. We attach a camera to it to see what the seafloor is made of at that spot. We want to know if it is a sandy bottom, sea grass, muddy, etc.
Then we wait one hour.
The second part of the process is called the haul. The haul is simply the set done in reverse, except that we often catch fish. The fishermen use a grappling hook to retrieve the main line attached to the hi flier.
Grappling hook ready to thrown
When it is brought on board, the main line is attached to a winch. The winch is used to pull the main line up of the seafloor. As the main line is pulled in the gangions are detached and replaced in a barrel, the numbered clips are detached and kept on a line in number order. That way, everything is ready to be used for the next set. Whatever is on, or not on, the hook is recorded on the computer. If the bait is missing or damaged is noted.
Weighing a barracuda
Any fish caught is noted on the computer and the team jumps into action. For sharks there are several things that happen. They are identified by species. The hook is removed and the shark is weighed. It is then measured for three different lengths, precaudal (before the tail fin), fork (at the fork in the tail, and total (the end of the tail fin). The sex, male or female, and maturity is determined. Tissue samples are taken by cutting off a small piece of a fin. This tissue sample is placed in a small plastic vial and labeled. They are also often given a numbered tag. This information is all recorded and entered into the computer.
Me, tagging a sandbar shark.
Meet the Crew: Lieutenant James Freed
NOAA Corps Lieutenant James Freed is the operations officer for the Oregon II. He has many responsibilities as part of his job. Part of his job is to liaison, or maintain communication, between the science party and the ship’s commanding officer (CO). That means making sure that everything that the science team needs is on the ship. If the science team has needs then we would go through him and not directly to the CO. As Operations Officer he is also in charge of organizing materials when they come aboard the ship. He posts the Plan of the Day which lets everyone on board know what to expect that day. Lieutenant Freed coordinates port logistics for the ship. This means he coordinates the loading and unloading of materials. His duties also include acting as Officer of the Deck (OOD). During this 4 hour shift he is responsible for the ship’s navigation and safety. His emergency response assignments on the Oregon II include being the nozzleman on the fire team, launching life rafts for abandon ship and he goes out on the rescue boat for man overboard.
Lieutenant Freed grew up in Santa Rosa, California. He attended Santa Rosa Junior College and then transferred to University of California, Santa Cruz where he studied marine biology. During this time he worked as an intern on a fishing vessel and this is where he first heard about the NOAA Corps. He has now been in the NOAA Corps for 6 years. Before being assigned to the Oregon II he was first assigned to the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada in Newport, Oregon. He then moved to Seattle working with the Marine Mammal Laboratory at Alaska Fisheries Science Center. For this assignment his duties were quite varied. They included doing a lot of field work, flying drones, and doing whale biopsies.
Lieutenant Freed is clearly enthusiastic about his career in the NOAA Corps. He describes it as an “incredible career” that supports his growth with leadership and management training. The NOAA Corps is growing with new ships and aircraft and will need to recruit new members.. The ships participate in a wide variety of tasks including fisheries research, oceanographic and atmospheric data collection and hydrographic mapping.
Well these last few days have been quite a transition. After 2 1/2 days of transit from Pascagoula, MS to Miami. It was a bit shocking to see how the skyline has changed after 40+ years. It has grown, to say the least. We started fishing just north of Miami. The 10 person science team is split into two shifts. I am on the “day” shift. We work from noon to midnight. These long shifts are filled with alternating periods of activity and waiting. After the set we wait for an hour before the haul. Then, depending on where the next set is, there will be another wait of between two to three hours. The hauls seem to follow the same patterns. As the mile of line is reeled in, there are long periods with not much happening. Then, there might be three fish online within a few hooks. Last night it was two baby tiger sharks and a 1200 mm (3 ft. 11 in.) barracuda within about 5 minutes. When there is a shark too big to haul up by hand on the gangion, the crane is used. We all don hardhats, the crane is moved into place and everyone is busy taking measurements, preparing tags, and taking tissue samples. I was warned to bring a lot of reading material for the down time and I did that. However, with so many things to learn, interesting people to talk to, and beautiful scenery to watch, I have had little time for boredom to creep in.
Ready to release a baby tiger shark.
One of the most common questions that I had before I left concerned getting motion sick. Dare I utter the word… seasick. So far, I have been lucky… hmm, I can’t seem to find any wood around here to knock on. I started the voyage with what I consider to be a rational decision, take the Dramamine. We started with two days of beautiful weather. By the first sign of rough seas I had stopped taking the Dramamine so I went outside and watched the horizon for about an hour. I decided that watching the horizon on a beautiful day at sea had no drawbacks. I never did feel nauseaus. Some people recomended that I buy the accupressure bands which I did. When seas get rough and I am inside I will sometimes wear those. I have not been seasick, yet. I still take precautions like not doing computer work inside when in rough seas but so far I have been fine. In fact, as far as I know none of the volunteers or crew have been sick.
I cannot end this blog without acknowledging the stewards in the gally and the impressive menu available at each meal. I think that there are always three choices for a main dish and a variety of sides. Additonally, a salad bar is always available, snacks, and my favorite, ice cream.
Just one of three delicious options that night
Animals seen: sea turtle, dolphin, snake fish, spotted eel, barracuda, shark sucker. Sharks: sandbar shark, tiger shark, Atlantic sharpnose shark, scalloped hammerhead
shame faced crab
Did you know?
Most of the fish that we catch have parasites living in and on them?