Tammy Orilio, My First Pollock Trawl, June 20, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Tammy Orilio
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: 20 June 2011
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 54.29 N
Longitude: -165.13 W
Wind Speed: 12.31 knots
Surface Water Temp: 5.5 degrees C
Water Depth: 140.99 m
Air Temp: 6.1 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 97%

Science & Technology Log: walleye pollock, which is an important fish species here in Alaska. Walleye pollock make up 56.3% of the groundfish catch in Alaska (http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/species/pollock.php), and chances are you’ve eaten it before.  It’s a commonly used fish in all of the fast food restaurants, in fish sticks, and it’s also used to make imitation crab meat.

Our first catch had a little over 300 walleye pollock, and we processed all of them. Three hundred is an ideal sample size for this species. If, for example, we had caught 2,000 pollock, we would only have processed 300 of the fish, and we would have released the rest of them back into the ocean.  Check out the photos/captions below to see how we process the catch.

Conveyer belt

Gender Box

Length Station
After sexing, we then measured the length of each fish. There’s a ruler embedded in the lab table, and we laid each fish down on the ruler. Then we put a hand-held sensor at the caudal (tail) fin of the fish, and the total length was recorded on a computer.
At the sexing station, cutting open pollack.
At the sexing station, cutting open pollack.

We also removed and preserved 20 stomachs from randomly selected fish in order to (later) analyze what they had been eating prior to them being caught. One of the last things we do is collect otoliths from each of those 20 fish. Otoliths are ear bones, and they are used to determine the age of a fish- they have rings, similar to what you see in trees.

Here’s a look at some of the bycatch in our nets:

Basket Star.  Marine 1: What phylum are sea stars in?
Basket Star. Marine 1: What phylum are sea stars in?
Arrowtooth flounder.
Arrowtooth flounder.
The reason(s) WHY they're called ARROWTOOTH flounder.
The reason(s) WHY they’re called ARROWTOOTH flounder.
Animals Spotted:
walleye pollock
chum salmon
arrowtooth flounder
basket star
Northern Fulmars
Albatross (couldn’t tell what kind)
* I did spot some kind of pinniped yesterday, but have no idea what exactly it was!

Personal Log:
I was very excited that we finally got to fish today!!  As an added bonus, we caught 2 salmon in the trawl, which means we’re having salmon for dinner tonight!  We we supposed the have teriyaki steak, but the cook has changed it to teriyaki salmon instead 🙂  I didn’t get any pics of them because my gloves were covered in fish scales, blood, and guts by that point and I didn’t want to get any of that funk on my camera 🙂
We passed by Dutch Harbor yesterday- it should sound familiar if you watch Deadliest Catch.  We didn’t go into the Harbor, so no, I didn’t see any of the crab boats or any of the guys from the show!  Below are some pics of the Aleutian Islands that I’ve see thus far…many more to come, since we still have another 13 days (give or take) of sailing left!


  • The Aleutian Islands were formed at the boundary where the North American and Pacific Plates are coming together.  The Pacific Plate is denser than the North American Plate, so it slides underneath the North American Plate.  What is this type of plate boundary called (where plates move towards each other), and what is it called when one plate slides underneath another?
  • One thing we’re doing on this trip is trawling for fish.  We are conducting both mid-water and bottom trawls.  Describe one advantage and one disadvantage to trawling in order to gather scientific data.

Robert Lovely, April 10, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Robert Lovely
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
March 31 – April 12, 2008

Mission: Reef Fish Ecological Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pulley Ridge and the West Florida Shelf, Gulf of Mexico
Date: April 10, 2008

A bank sea bass (Centropristis ocyurus) tucked in under one of the rock outcrops along the West Florida Shelf.
A bank sea bass (Centropristis ocyurus) tucked in under one of the rock outcrops along the West Florida Shelf.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility:  12 miles
Wind Direction:  120 degrees
Wind Speed:  16 knots
Sea Wave Height:  2-3 foot
Swell Wave Height:  3-4 foot
Seawater Temp.: 22.1 degrees C.
Present Weather:  Partly Cloudy

Science and Technology Log 

Today we made three ROV dives on the West Florida Shelf, roughly 100 miles off the west coast of Florida. After making our usual CTD profile (see Ship’s Log, April 4, 2008) at about 0730, we lowered the ROV to a depth of 262 feet and followed a transect bearing southwest.  The object was to conduct a fish survey with respect to species presence and abundance as a function of bottom habitat types. Essentially, we were looking for good hard-bottom fish habitats within an area being proposed to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council as a new Marine Protected Area (MPA).

A blue angelfish (Holacanthus bermudensis).
A blue angelfish (Holacanthus bermudensis).

Each of the video transects revealed a mix of sand and hard bottom, with fish most abundant in areas having some topographic relief. Numerous hard rock outcrops offered attractive habitat for a wide variety of reef fish, such as scamp (Mycteroperca phenax), red porgy (Pagrus pagrus), red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), almaco jack (Seriola rivoliana) greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili), short bigeye (Pristigenys alta), bank butterflyfish (Chaetodon aya), great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda), red grouper (Epinephelus morio), blue angelfish (Holacanthus bermudensis), creolefish (Paranthias furcifer) saddle bass (Serranus notospilus) bank sea bass (Centropristis ocyurus) and many others. The sand flats in between ridges and reef outcroppings provided a stark contrast in terms of fish abundance.  Over these areas the ROV would glide for minutes at a time without revealing many fish.  But even in these less productive bottom habitats we would see the occasional fish dart into its hole as we passed over.

A school of jackknife fish (Equetus lanceolatus) captured by the ROV over the West Florida Shelf.
A school of jackknife fish captured by the ROV over the West Florida Shelf.
A sea star (Class: Asteroidea) on the sand flats between reef outcroppings.
A sea star (Class: Asteroidea) on the sand
flats between reef outcroppings.

Personal Log 

The quality and abundance of food on the GORDON GUNTER is remarkable, and I find it impossible to resist (especially the deserts).  I’d rather not return home ten pounds heavier than when I left, so I’ve been trying to visit the weight room whenever I can find the time.  During my first few sessions on the treadmill I had to hang on for dear life due to the rocking motion of the ship. It was pretty comical.  Now, though, I am getting fairly good at going no-handed while compensating for the ship’s motion.  It requires some dexterity, but it’s great practice for getting your sea legs. We also saw other common sea creatures, such as gorgonians, wire coral, basket stars, sea stars, feather sea pens, sea urchins, sponges and snails.

A short bigeye (Pristigenys alta) ready to dart into his hole on the sand flats.
A short bigeye (Pristigenys alta) ready to dart into his hole on the sand flats.
Basket stars (Order: Phrynophiurida) spread their plankton nets near the top of a gorgonian.
Basket stars (Order: Phrynophiurida) spread their plankton nets near the top of a gorgonian.

Roy Arezzo, July 28, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Roy Arezzo
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 11 – 29, 2007

Mission: Summer Pollock Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific, Alaska
Date: July 28, 2007

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10 nm (nautical miles)
Wind direction:   240° (SW)
Wind speed:   10 knots
Sea wave height: 3 foot
Swell wave height: 0 feet
Seawater temperature: 8.6 °C
Sea level pressure: 1020.5 mb (millibars)
Air Temperature: 0°C
Cloud cover: 8/8, Stratus

Creature at Sea:  Roy holds a sea pen in the top picture and a basket star (bottom) from the bottom trawl study
Creature at Sea: Roy holds a sea pen

Science and Technology Log: Wrap Up 

The Echo Integration-Trawl Survey of Walleye Pollock closed the season with a total of 74 Aleutian wing trawls (AWT mid-water trawls), 19 bottom trawls, 27 Methot trawls (plankton) and 81 ConductivityTemperature-Depth Sensor Package deployments (CTD water quality checks) collecting a wealth of biological and physical oceanographic data. The crew and scientists are excited to be headed back to shore but also there is a good feeling regarding the mission of the trip and the validity of the data collection. Of the 50,840 Kg of fish netted more then half was caught in the 44 AWT mid-water trawls executed this third leg of the survey.  During this time we took the length of 16,761 individual pollock and identified 19 other species of fish.I spent some time looking at graphs of preliminary data to try and make sense of what was accomplished from the work done during the sail. This past winter had a higher incidence of sea ice relative to the previous years. Generally the colder and saltier the water, the greater the density and the deeper it sinks. Although this concept was illustrated in salinity measurements at different depths (deeper being saltier) we found this not to be true when looking at temperature profiles.

Basket star
Basket star

In the sea, deeper does not always mean colder. The Bering shelf is influenced by more than one current system and we found the data taken from the northern parts of the transect along the shelf had colder water than the southern areas as expected but along the slope near the edge of the deep basin the water remained consistently warmer relative to the shelf water despite the latitude change, rarely dipping below 1°C. Generally, we found colder water near the bottom of the shelf between 50 and 100 meters then we did near the bottom of the deeper slope at 200 meters or more. This is mainly due to ice melt in the northern latitudes slowly moving cold water along the bottom of the shelf, where as the deep basin and slope are influenced by slightly warmer currents moving northwest from the Aleutian chain. As a teacher working on the water in the east I came out here assuming the deep areas would be colder but instead I was schooled on currents and their influence on water temperatures.

Leg 3 Transects of Pollock Survey Area: Fish symbols indicate trawl locations. Circles represent CTD readings and diamonds represent the line between Russian and US fishing grounds.
Leg 3 Transects of Pollock Survey Area: Fish symbols indicate trawl locations. Circles represent CTD readings and diamonds represent the line between Russian and US fishing grounds.

Through much of the cruise the lead scientists on shift spend enormous amounts of time monitoring the acoustic signal (echograms) from sounds waves beamed below the ship. When they find a significant mass of pollock they often would take a sample – go fishing. Using patterns on computer monitors scientists are able to hypothesize which signals indicate pollock. Both the length data taken from measuring fish and the acoustic estimates are used to come up with biomass numbers. In the echogram in figure 3 there is what appears to be a signal indicating mixed size pollock. We know that pollock schools tend to be homogeneous with respect to age and size. The strong blue layer at the top of the echogram represents plankton near the surface and in this instance the fish are mostly near the bottom with larger fish indicated in blue and more evenly dispersed, while dense schools of small fish show up as odd shaped clumps with lighter colors. When we sampled this water we found this to be true; we observed two groups of pollock, large adults and small two year old juveniles. The data in Figure 4 (histogram lengths) shows the two size groups. Cannibalism may be part of the reason the smaller fish stick together in separate densely packed schools.

Temperature Profile from CTD readings
Temperature Profile from CTD readings
Conductivity (salinity) Profile from CTD readings
Conductivity (salinity) Profile from CTD readings
Echogram of trawl haul
Echogram of trawl haul
Trawl histogram
Trawl histogram

In the echogram, we see more evenly dispersed adult pollock. This is verified by the haul 92 histogram in figure 6 that shows that most of the pollock sampled where between 40 and 55 centimeters long. Looking at the distribution of pollock in our study area (Figure 7) shows a consistent band of greater incidence of fish near the slope particularly to the western parts of the study area. As the fishery scientists fine tune hydro-acoustic technology they hope to get a better understanding in zooplankton (Figure 8) trends that influence survivorship of young Pollock.  A Krill Survey would be ambitious but by looking at the higher frequency acoustic waves, verified with Methot Trawls, one can estimate krill biomass in pollock regions. Environmental monitoring of chlorophyll concentration (phytoplankton measured from CTD water samples analyzed back on shore) and krill biomass (zooplankton) relative amounts from year to year can help create a better understanding of the resources necessary to support fish stocks.

FIGURE 7: Preliminary data of pollock distribution throughout the survey area
FIGURE 7: Preliminary data of pollock distribution throughout the survey area
FIGURE 8: Preliminary data of zooplankton estimates through out the pollock survey area
FIGURE 8: Preliminary zooplankton estimates throughout the pollock survey area

I would like to thank Chief Scientist, Paul Walline and B-Watch Chief ,Patrick Ressler for taking the time to explain to me the science of hydroacoustic survey analysis and sharing with me their preliminary data.

Chief Scientist, Paul Walline, monitoring the echogram from the bridge of OSCAR DYSON.
Chief Scientist, Paul Walline, monitoring the echogram from the bridge of OSCAR DYSON.

Bird of the Day: 

The bird survey folks identified over 35 species on our trip. I became familiar at least 6 species of birds that I felt comfortable identifying on the fly. When there were hundreds of birds circling the boat there was sometimes one type of bird that stood out making identification a snap. The Auks are related to penguins and have rounder body shapes and unique flight patterns. Like penguins of the southern hemisphere, the denser body composition makes them excellent at swimming under water, but they less nimble taking off and flying in the air compared to sleeker less dense seabirds like the gulls. Unlike penguins all 13 species of auks in the northern hemisphere can fly. The two most abundant types observed onboard are the Murres and the Puffins. I was fortunate to see two species of puffin this trip, the Horned and Tufted Puffin, seemingly too exotic for the Bering Sea. Both have specialized large colorful beaks for carrying multiple prey items and attracting mates. As we sail southeast we are fortunate to be seeing more of them.

Personal Log: 

Patrick, always with a smile, takes a break from the computer screens to look at the catch.
Patrick, always with a smile, takes a break from the computer screens to look at the catch.

These last few days, despite the lack of fishing, have not been without excitement. The bottom-study video sled captured Dall’s Porpoises swimming under water as it was deployed off the stern. As we head southeast there seems to be more whales and clearer skies. This evening we saw dozens of fin whales and one pod was feeding so close that I was able to see baleen. The whales’ baleen is used to screen their plankton food.  I learned the Right Whale has asymmetrical coloring on its baleen and the right side has a lighter off-white color, which we were able to see from the port side of the ship. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the crew of the OSCAR DYSON for their help in getting acclimated to the Bering and to NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program for providing this amazing experience.

Question of the Day 

Today’s question: What is next for the OSCAR DYSON? She is headed back out to the Bering to find rare Right Whales. Check out ship tracker at NOAA’s website or the OSCAR DYSON Web site for more info.

Previous Question: How much fish did we catch? 26,575 kilograms (summer extra credit – convert this number to pounds and metric tons)

Horned Puffin (Fratercula corniculata)
Horned Puffin (Fratercula corniculata) 
Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata)
Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata)