Stephen Kade: What is Long Line Fishing? August 19, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Stephen Kade

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 23 – August 10, 2018

 

Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1

Geographic Area: 30 35’ 34’’ N, 80 56’ 48’’ W, 20 miles off the coast of Jessup, Georgia

Date: August 2, 2018

Weather Data from Bridge: Wind speed 14 knots, Air Temp: 27c, Visibility 10 nautical miles, Wave height 2 ft.

Science and Technology Log

Longline fishing is a technique that consists of one main fishing line with many baited hooks that come of that line on shorter lines, (like branches off a tree) attached at various distances. Long lines are used in both coastal areas and the open ocean and are often placed to target specific species. If the long line is suspended in the top or mid depth water, it is called pelagic longline fishing. If it is on or near the ocean floor by weighting it down to the sea floor, it is called bottom longline fishing. A high-flyer buoy is placed at either end to mark the position of the line in the water so boats can see it while submerged, and so it can be found when it needs to be retrieved. Weights are placed on each end and the middle of the line to hold the line down to a specified depth.

Longline_KadeTAS2018

Computer created infographic of long line fishing process by NOAA TAS 2018 Stephen Kade

On board NOAA Ship Oregon II, the mission is a red snapper/shark longline fishing survey in the Gulf of Mexico and the Western North Atlantic coast. I was on the first of four legs of the survey that left Pascagoula, Mississippi, rounded the bottom of Florida and stopped for 44 stations between West Palm Beach FL, up to Cape Hatteras, NC, and back down to Port Canaveral, FL. NOAA’s mission is to research current shark and snapper populations in specific areas as determined by NOAA shark scientists and related state Fishery Departments.

The Oregon II has a large spool of 3mm monofilament fishing line on deck. For our survey, we used a line that was one mile long, and had 100 baited hooks approximately 50 feet apart. The hooks are attached to the line by gangions. Gangions are 12 foot long monofilament lines with a hook on one end and a manual fastener at the other end that can be taken on and off each time the line is deployed. All 100 hooks on the gangions are baited with Atlantic mackerel.

numbering gangions

The team attaches the gangion numbers and hands over for deployment

To deploy the line into the water, it takes a team of 6 people. The first person strings the line from the spool and through various pulleys along the length of the ship moving toward the back of the boat before tying it to the high flyer buoy and returning to the spool control to deploy the mile long line into the water. A team of two works to attach a specific number tag onto each gangion, and then to retrieve the 12 foot long gangion from a barrel. The numbered, baited, gangions are handed one by one to the next team member who attaches the gangion of the main long line every 60 feet as the line descends into the water. This crewman also places three weights on the line to hold it onto the ocean floor, one at each end, and one in the middle. When all hooks are deployed, the line is cut from the spool and the high-flyer buoy is attached to mark the end of the line in the water.

deploying high-flyer

Deploying the high-flyer buoy after all 100 gangions and weights are attached.

The last member of the science team is at a computer station on deck and they are in charge of inputting data into the computer. Each time a buoy, weight, or gangion goes into the water, a specific button is pushed to mark the items place in the water. This is done so when a shark comes up on a numbered hook, NOAA scientists know exactly the latitude, longitude and depth of where that specific shark was caught. Scientists upload this important data immediately to NOAA servers for later use so they can assess average populations in specific areas, among many other data points.

Input

Each time a gangion, weight, or high-flyer buoy is deployed, its location is input in the computer.

The bait stays down on the ocean floor for about an hour before the boat returns to retrieve it. The retrieval process is similar to deploying the line except that it takes longer to bring it in, as there are now some fish and sharks attached to the hooks. If the hooks are empty, the number is taken off the line, and the gangion is placed back in the barrel until the next station. If there is a shark or fish on the line, it is pulled onto the deck and data is collected before the shark is safely placed back into the water. The first step is unhooking the fish, before it is measured. The shark is measured from the tip of the nose to various parts of the body to determine the size in those areas. The gender of the shark is also determined, as well as the maturity. Finally, the shark is weighed on a scale and most are tagged before being photographed and released. The process only takes about two minutes to safely ensure the shark survives. The data is recorded on a data log, and after the retrieval, the data is input into a database.

Removing Gangions

Gangions are taken off the long line, de-baited, de-numbered and put back in barrel.

 

Personal Log

Before coming on the Oregon II, I knew only about the fishing process on a larger scale from what I’d read about, or seen on television. I was slightly intimidated that without experience, I’d likely be slowing down the experienced team of professionals from their difficult job. As we headed out to sea, I found out it would take a few days before we reached our first station and that gave me time to get to know the crew, which was very valuable. There are two crews, each work 12 hours a day, so fishing was happening around the clock. I was able to listen to their advice and explanation of the techniques used in the long line process, and also some fantastic stories about their lives and families. Their patience with me and the other volunteers during those first few stations gave us time to get up to their speed, and from then out it was like clockwork. It was certainly hard to work outside all day, but the passion, skill, and humor of the crew made it quite fun work each day and night. It was impressive and amazing to see how this efficient process is used to help NOAA scientists and fishermen collect data from vast areas of the ocean for two weeks. I am proud to say I helped a great team to get information that can help us understand how to help populations of sharks and fish for long into the future.

Stephen removes shark

TAS 2018 Stephen Kade taking shark off gangion, ready to measure, weigh, and put back in ocean

Stephen Kade: The Shark Cradle and Data Collection, August 8, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Stephen Kade

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 23 – August 10, 2018

 

Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1

Geographic Area: 31 41 010 N, 80 06 062 W, 30 nautical miles NE of Savannah, North Carolina

Date: August 8, 2018

 

Weather Data from Bridge:

Wind speed 11 knots,
Air Temp: 30c,
Visibility 10 nautical miles,
Wave height 3 ft.

Science and Technology Log

Normally you wouldn’t hear the words shark and cradle in the same sentence, but in our case, the cradle is one of the most important pieces of equipment we use each day. Our mission on the Oregon II is to survey sharks to provide data for further study by NOAA scientists. We use the long line fishing method where 100 hooks are put out on a mile long line for about an hour, and then slowly hauled up by a large mechanical reel. If a shark is generally three feet and weighs 30lbs or less, it is handled by hand to carefully unhook, measure and throw back. If the shark is much larger and cannot be managed safely by hand, it is then held on the line by the ships rail until it can be lifted on deck by the cradle to be quickly measured, tagged, and put back into the ocean.

The shark cradle

The shark cradle

The shark cradle is 10 ft. long, with a bed width of roughly 4 feet. It is made from thick aluminum tubing and strong synthetic netting to provide the bed for the shark to lie on. It is lifted from the ship’s deck by a large crane and lowered over the ships rail into the ocean. The shark is still on the line and is guided by a skilled fisherman into the cradle. The crane operator slowly lifts the cradle out of the water, up to the rail, so work can begin.

A team of 3 highly skilled fishermen quickly begin to safely secure the shark to protect it, and the team of scientists collecting data. They secure the shark at 3 points, the head, body and tail. Then the scientists come in to take 3 measurements of the shark. The precaudal measurement is from the tip of nose to the start of the tail. The fork measurement is from the tip of the nose to the fork of the tail (the place where the top and bottom of the tail meet). Finally there is a total length taken from the tip of the nose to the furthest tip of the tail.

When all measurements are complete, a tag is then placed at the base of the first dorsal (top) fin. First a small incision is made, and then the tagger pushes the tag just below the skin. The tag contains a tracking number and total length to be taken by the person who finds the shark next, and a phone number to call NOAA, so the data can recorded and compared to the previous time data is recorded. The yellow swivel tags, used for smaller sharks, are identical to ones used in sheep ears in the farming industry, and are placed on the front of the dorsal fin. The measurements and tag number are collected on the data sheet for each station. The data is input to a computer and uploaded to the NOAA shark database so populations and numbers can be assessed at any time by NOAA and state Departments of Natural Resources.

removing hook

A skilled fisherman removes the hook so the shark can be released.

longline

The longline is mile long and carries up to 100 hooks.

The shark is then unhooked safely by a skilled fisherman while the other two are keeping the shark still to protect both the shark and the fishermen from injury. The cradle is then slowly lowered by crane back into the ocean where the shark can easily glide back into its environment unharmed. The cradle is then raised back on deck by the crane operator, and guided by the two fishermen. All crew on deck must wear hardhats during this operation as safety for all is one of NOAA’s top priorities. This process is usually completed within 2 minutes, or the time it took you to read this post. It can happen many times during a station, as there are 100 hooks on the one mile line.

 

 

Personal Log

It is amazing for me to see and participate in the long line fishing process. I find it similar to watching medical television shows like “ER” where you see a highly skilled team of individually talented members working together quickly and efficiently to perform an operation. It can be highly stressful if the shark is not cooperating, or the conditions aren’t ideal, but each member always keeps their cool under this intense work. It’s also amazing to see the wealth of knowledge each person has so when an issue arises, someone always knows the answer to the problem, or the right tool to use to fix the situation, as they’ve done it before.

Animals Seen Today: Sandbar shark, Tiger shark, Sharpnose Shark, Sea Robin, Toadfish, Flying Fish

Stephen Kade: Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth, August 5, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Stephen Kade

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 23 – August 10, 2018

 

Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1

Geographic Area: 30 54 760 N, 76 32 86.0 W, 40 nautical miles E of Cape Lookout, North Carolina

Date: August 5, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Wind speed 11 knots,
Air Temp: 30.c,
Visibility 10 nautical miles,
Wave height 1 foot

Science and Technology Log

While our main mission aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II is to survey and study sharks and red snapper, it is also very important to understand the environmental conditions and physical properties of the sea water in which these animals live. The CTD instrument is used to help understand many different properties within the water itself. The acronym CTD stands for Conductivity (salinity), Temperature, and Depth. Sensors also measure dissolved oxygen content and fluorescence (presence of cholorphyll).

CTD

The CTD instrument itself is housed in a steel container and is surrounded by a ring of of steel tubing to protect it.

Conductivity is a measure of how well a solution conducts electricity and it is directly related to salinity, or the salt that is within ocean water. When salinity measurements are combined with temperature readings, seawater density can be determined. This is crucial information since seawater density is a driving force for major ocean currents. The physical properties and the depth of the water is recorded continuously both on the way down to the ocean floor, and on the way back up to the surface.  There is a light, and a video camera attached to the CTD to provide a look at the bottom type, as that is where the long line is deployed, and gives us a good look at the environment where our catch is made. These data can explain why certain animals gather in areas with certain bottom types or physical parameters. This can be particularly important in areas such as the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. This is an area of low oxygen water caused by algal blooms related to runoff of chemical fertilizers from the Mississippi River drainage.

The CTD instrument itself is housed in a steel container and is surrounded by a ring of of steel tubing to protect it while deployed and from bumping against the ship or sea floor. Attached water sampling bottles can be individually triggered at various depths to collect water samples allowing scientists to analyze water at specific depths at a particular place and time. The entire structure is slowly lowered by a hydraulic winch, and is capable of making vertical profiles to depths over 500 meters. An interior computer display in the ship’s Dry Science Lab profiles the current location of the CTD and shows when the winch should stop. We have found this to be a tricky job, during large wave swells, as the boat rocks quite a bit and changes the depth by a meter or more. The operator must be very careful that the CTD doesn’t hit the ocean floor too hard which can damage the equipment.

Dry Lab

An interior computer display in the ship’s Dry Science Lab profiles the current location of the CTD and shows when the winch should stop.

The data collected while deployed at each station is instantly uploaded to NOAA servers for immediate use by researchers and scientists. The current data is also available the general public as well, on the NOAA website. Once safely back aboard the Oregon II, the CTD video camera is taken off and uploaded to the computer, The CTD must be washed off and the lines flushed for one minute with fresh water, as the salt water from the ocean can damage and corrode the very sensitive equipment inside. The instrument is also calibrated regularly to ensure it is working correctly throughout all legs of the long line survey.

Personal Log

TAS Stephen Kade

TAS Stephen Kade

I am having such a great time during my Teacher at Sea experience. In the 9 days aboard ship so far, we have traveled the entire coasts of Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Never in my life did I think I would get an opportunity to do something like this as I’ve dreamed about it for decades, and now my dreams have come true. I’m learning so much about fishing procedures, the biology of sharks, navigational charting, and the science of collecting data for further study while back on land at the lab. I can’t wait to get home and spread the word about NOAA’s mission and how they are helping make the world a better place, and are advocating for the conservation of these beautiful animals!

 

Animals Seen: Sharpnose shark, Tiger Shark, Grouper, Red Drum fish, Moray Eel, Blue Line Tile fish

Kate Schafer: The Importance of Science, October 4, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kate Schafer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 17 – 30, 2017

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: October 4, 2017

 

Weather Data from the San Francisco Bay area:

Latitude: 37o 38.4’ N
Longitude: 122o 08.5’ W

Visibility 16 km

Winds 5-10 mph

San Francisco Bay Water Temperature 16 oCelsius

Air Temperature 17 o Celsius

 

Science and Technology Log:

Well, I’m back on dry land, with lots of great memories of sharks, big and small, and all the interesting people who I spent two weeks with on the Oregon II.  And let’s not forget the red snappers either.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The largest shark we caught: 10 foot tiger shark

 

CubanDogfish

Cuban dogfish: The smallest species we caught

On our last day, we fished at a couple of sites right off the coast of Alabama and caught lots of sharks, plus a new species of grouper for the trip.  The scamp grouper (Mycteroperca phenax) is apparently not frequently found on the longlines along the coast of Texas but becomes more common along the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama and up the Eastern Atlantic coast as well.

ScampTail

Tail of a Scamp Grouper

The groupers are mostly protogynous, meaning that when they become sexually mature, they are always females.  Only later in life, when they have grown bigger (and have the right environmental influences), do they transition to males.  This species can live for more than 30 years, but that’s actually relatively short for a lot of the grouper species, some of which can live to 60 years or more. Scamp grouper come together in groups to reproduce, so this makes them vulnerable to overfishing.  The management councils take this into consideration when making a management plan and will close off areas known to be spawning grounds during the reproductive season.  These are also great areas to target as Marine Protected Areas.

ScampHead

Scamp Grouper being measured

All of this knowledge about the scamp grouper (and other species we encountered on this survey) was gained through careful scientific research.  As mentioned before, the long line survey was started in 1995 and has been conducted using the same methods every year since then.  These data are used by fisheries managers to set catch limits and detect changes that might indicate problems for the species living in these areas.  In other words, the science forms the basis for decision making and planning.

This is true for the various surveys that NOAA conducts in the Gulf each year.  The Groundfish Survey, for example, provides vital information about the extent of the Dead Zone off the coast of Louisiana, by measuring dissolved oxygen levels on the sea floor as part of the survey.  This data tells us that we need to continue to work on controlling nutrient inputs into the Mississippi River from agriculture lands and cities that span much of the eastern United States.  Scientific research also tells us that we need to be planning for and mitigating the effects of the looming problem of climate change.

Climate change will certainly bring about significant change to the Gulf.  As ocean temperatures rise, water becomes less dense and therefore takes up more space.  Along with continued melting of land-supported ice in the polar regions, this is contributing to a cumulative increase in sea level of 3.2 mm per year (https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sealevel.html).  In the Gulf, this increase will particularly impact estuarine ecosystems that are rich nurseries for many fish species and are extremely productive habitats.

One of the predictions of many climate models is that increased global temperatures are likely to bring about more frequent and more intense hurricanes.  This 2017 hurricane season is a stark reminder of the devastating impacts that hurricanes can have, even when we have the scientific tools to predict approximately where and when the storm will make landfall.

Finally, the increase in global temperatures will make the regions surrounding the Gulf less pleasant places for people to live.  The summers are already very hot and humid, and a degree or two hotter will make a lot of difference in the livability of the region.

We know all of this through careful scientific research, and there is a consensus amongst scientists that this is happening.  To prepare for the effects of climate change and to know how to best minimize those effects, we must continue to collect data and do science.  After all, what is the point of scientific research if we don’t use the results to make better choices and to address the problems that are facing us?

IMG_4151

At the end of my time on the Oregon II

Personal Log:  I am so grateful for the opportunity to go on this research survey and for the Teacher at Sea program as a whole.  I strongly encourage any teacher thinking of applying to the program to do so.  Thanks to NOAA and everyone at the TAS office for all your help and support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kate Schafer: A Day in the Life… September 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kate Schafer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 17 – 30, 2017

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 29, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 29o 11.3′ N
Longitude: 88o 18.3′ W

Few clouds

Visibility 10 nautical miles

Wind speed 8 knots

Sea wave height 1 foot

Temperature Seawater 29.4 o Celsius

Science and Technology Log:

So, as my time on the Oregon II is winding down, I thought I’d share a bit about what it is like to do science on a boat.  First of all, there is a tremendous amount of planning that must go into a successful survey in the weeks and months beforehand.  In addition to all the logistics of going to sea for two weeks, there is the challenge of putting together a crew of scientists that can be away from their day to day jobs and lives, and agree to work 12 hour days, for weeks on end.  Lisa Jones is the Field Party Chief for this survey and must figure out those logistics plus organize the science part as well.  This survey has been going since 1995, and one of the keys to longitudinal data sets is that they keep standard methods throughout, or else the data aren’t comparable.

This can be challenging in all sorts of unforeseen ways.  For example, a few years ago, it became difficult to find the mackerel used as bait on the longlines.  During an experimental survey in the spring, they tried out squid as an alternative and caught a totally different composition of species.  Fortunately, the mackerel became more available again, and the problem is no longer an issue, for now.

MackerelBaitedHooks

Hooks baited with mackerel

Lisa is also the one responsible for working with the captain and his crew to determine sampling locations and a plan for getting to those locations.  There’s a plan at the beginning, but, of course, that changes frequently, due to weather, the locations of other ships and a myriad of other unforeseen circumstances.  The goal is to reach 200 sites per year, with 50% between 5-30 fathoms (1 fathom=6 feet), 40% between 30-100 fathoms, and 10% between 100-200 fathoms.  These percentages reflect the depths of the continental shelf area throughout the sampling region. Below is a sampling map for the 2015 longline survey.

SamplingStations

Sampling stations for 2015 Longline survey from 2015 Cruise report

During a longline set, the line is deployed for one hour before retrieval, with 100 baited hooks.  As the line comes in, each fish is given three to four measurements (depending on the species) and is weighed.  Many of the sharks are tagged, as this provides the possibility of someone finding the tagged shark in the future.  With a tag retrieval, we can learn about how far the organism has traveled and how much and how quickly it has grown.

Shark Cradling team_Shark LL SEP2017

Measuring and tagging shark in the cradle

As I mentioned in my post about the red snappers, the snappers, groupers and tilefish are dissected for their otoliths and gonads.  They can’t be successfully released in most circumstances anyway, due to barotrauma from pulling them quickly to the surface from depth.

YellowEdgeGrouper

A Yellowedge Grouper weighing nearly 20 kg

Sharks are less affected by barotrauma because they don’t have swim bladders to maintain their buoyancy like the bony fishes we’ve been catching.

PullingInShark

Caught on the longline

Here are a couple examples of our data sheets.  As you can see, some sets have more fish than others (in fact the full one, was only one of three pages).  Once all the data are collected, they have to be entered in the computer for later summary and analysis.  Some days it can be a big challenge to get all the data entered before it’s time to start all over again.  Other days, like today, include lots of travel time.

DataSheetEmpty

Only a tilefish on this set…

 

DataSheetFull

Many more on this one…in fact this is only one of three pages

 

Personal Log:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tiger shark filling the 10 foot cradle

For me, it has been truly wonderful to get to work as a scientist again, if just for a couple of weeks, especially with such an amazing group of scientists.  I’ve learned so much from my fellow day crew members (Lisa, Christian, Nick and Jason).  They have patiently answered all my questions, even when it was keeping them from getting to dinner.  Lisa Jones has gone above and beyond in her support of me, even though she has had many other responsibilities on her plate.  I also appreciate being made to feel welcome lurking around the night crew’s catches.  Thanks especially to Christophe, Vaden, and Eric for allowing me to hang out in the measuring pit.  I love my job as a teacher, but part of me definitely misses working as a field biologist.  I am grateful for the opportunity and especially thankful for my wonderful family.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support and love.

 

Kate Schafer: So Many Snappers… September 24, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kate Schafer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 17 – 30, 2017

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 24, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 28o 25.1’ N
Longitude: 94o 50.3’ W

Broken sky

Visibility 10 nautical miles

Wind speed 13 knots

Sea wave height 2-3 feet

Temperature Seawater 28.8 o Celsius

Science and Technology Log:

This is a shark and red snapper longline survey, and the sharks tend to steal the stage.  They are bigger (for the most part), more diverse and definitely have more of a reputation.  I have been surprised, however, by how much I’ve been drawn to the snappers.  They are a beautiful color, and tend to come up in groups that are pretty similar in size.

RedSnapper

Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) ready to be measured

The Northern Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) is commonly fished in the Gulf of Mexico, both recreationally and commercially.  It turns out that the commercial fishers get 51% of the catch quota and the recreational fishers get 49%.  The methods for dividing up those two basically equal pieces of the pie is different between the commercial and recreational fishers. In addition, the commercial fishing catch is monitored very closely, while the recreational fishing catch numbers are largely unknown.  Plus, the states have their own waters that extend out to different distances, depending on the state, and the federal waters extend from the state water boundary to 200 nautical miles offshore.  So, in other words, managing the fishery is quite complicated.

So, how do all these fishing rules and regulations get established and modified over time?  A law was passed in 1976, called the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and one of the key parts of the act established eight regional management councils for regulating fishing in federal waters (more information on the act here: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/laws_policies/msa/).  It also established the 200 nautical mile extension of federal waters from land.  The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (GMFMC) is responsible for creating Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs) for fisheries within the U.S. federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, from southern Texas, along Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and down the west coast of Florida.  This graphic shows the catch limits for red snapper and other species for 2017 set by the GMFMC.  For red snapper, the catch limit is close to 14 million pounds.

2017ACLBLOGGraphic_07-17-1024x663

Annual Catch Limits as set by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (http://gulfcouncil.org/fishing-regulations/federal/)

The data that we are collecting helps scientists and policy makers to determine what the annual catch limit for a particular season should be.  For each fish that we bring on board, we measure the fish length and weight, as well as the weight of the gonads.  In addition, we collect their otoliths (ear bones) and samples of the ovaries of females.  These both help managers to estimate the age and size of the population, and future populations as well.

Otoliths are calcium carbonate hardened structures and are present in the part of the inner ear that is responsible for balance.  Humans and other vertebrates have them too, and they can be used to tell the age of the fish.  The otoliths of Lutjanus campechanus are quite large.  There seems to be an overall relationship between the habitat of the fish species and the size of the otolith.  Species like Lutjanus campechanus that live along reefs and rocky structures have much larger otoliths than species like tuna that swim up in the water column.  Flying fish, which we’ve seen a lot of, also have large otoliths, given their body size, probably aiding them in knowing where they are as they glide through the air.

Otoliths

Otoliths taken from one of the red snappers we collected

Well, we have been collecting a lot of data over the past couple of days to help inform these policies in the future!  Each line we’ve pulled in lately has had a dozen or more snappers on it,  and they are a lot of extra work as compared with the sharks, due to all the samples we have to collect once we’re done.  A couple times, we’ve barely finished before it was time to start baiting lines again.

Personal Log:

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve really come to love the red snappers.  Their eyes are the same color as their skin and I’m just awed by their size.  I am used to snappers that I’ve watched on coral reefs, and even the largest species I’ve seen on reefs are nothing compared with these guys.

SnapperEye

Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) eyes

I’ve also adjusted to the shift in my day, as evidenced by the fact that I’m finishing this up at 1 a.m.  It has been a long time since I’ve been on this kind of late night schedule.  I’m enjoying it, especially because I know when I return to California, I’ll be getting up at 5:30 a.m. again.

 

Did You Know?

That snappers eat a wide variety of different foods, including fish and various types of crustaceans? Here are a couple of items we’ve found in the ones we’ve caught.  Can anyone identify them?  I studied the second group for my Ph.D. dissertation!

MoleCrab

Mystery snapper food

Stomatopod

More snapper food

 

 

 

 

 

And We’re Fishing…

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kate Schafer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 17 – 30, 2017

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 21, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 27o 15.5’ N

Longitude: 97o 01.3’ W

Haze

Visibility 6 nautical miles

Wind SE 15 knots

Sea wave height 3-4 feet

Sea Temperature: 29.6o Celsius

Note: Just a month ago Hurricane Harvey was bringing 20 foot seas to this area, but today we’re enjoying the 3-4 foot swell.

Science and Technology Log:

Well, we’ve gotten to the fishing grounds, and we’ve gone from waiting to very busy!  We put out the first lines starting at around 8 pm on Tuesday evening.  The process involves first baiting 100 hooks with Atlantic mackerel.  When it’s time for the line to be deployed, first there is a tall buoy with a light and radar beacon (called a high flyer) on it that gets set into the water, attached to the monofilament fishing line.  Then there’s a weight, so the line sinks to the bottom, a series of 50 baited hooks then get clipped onto the line as the monofilament is being fed out.

Those 50 hooks are referred to as a “skate”.  This confused me last night when I was logging our progress on the computer.  I kept thinking that there was going to be some kind of flat, triangular shaped object clipped on to help the line move through the water…not really sure what I was imagining.  Anyway, Lisa Jones, the field party chief and fisheries biologist extraordinaire, has so kindly humored all my questions and explained that skate is just a term for some set unit of baited hooks.  In this case, the unit is 50, and we’ll be deploying two skates each time.

After the first skate comes another weight, the second skate, another weight and then the last high flyer.  Then the line is set loose and we wait.  It’s easy to locate the line again, even at night, because of the radar beacons on the high flyers.

Why are we collecting this data?

As mentioned in my previous post, one of the tasks of NOAA, especially the National Marine Fisheries Service Line Office, is to collect data that will help with effective fisheries management and assist with setting things like catch quotas and so forth.  A catch quota refers to the amount of a particular species that can be harvested in a particular year.  Fisheries management is incredibly complicated, but the basic idea is that you don’t want to use up the resource faster than it is replenishing itself.  In order to know if you are succeeding in this regard, you must go out and take a look at how things are going.  Therefore, the Oregon II goes out each year in the fall and samples roughly 200 sites over about eight weeks.  The precise locations of the sampling sites change each year but are spread out along the SE Atlantic Coast and throughout the U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

We’ve put out three long lines so far.  Last night, we caught a single fish, but it was a really cool one.  It’s called the Golden Tilefish but has an even better species name: Lopholatilus chamealeonticeps.  As Lisa was explaining that they dig burrows in the sea floor, I realized that I had seen their cousins while snorkeling around coral reefs but would never have made the connection that they were related. This guy was big!

 

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Golden tilefish (Lopholatilus chamealeonticeps) caught in first longline of the trip

This afternoon, things got really hectic.  Of our 100 hooks, 67 had a fish on it, and 60 of those were sharks.  As we were pulling in the last bit of line, we pull on a shark that was missing its back half!  Another had a bite taken out of it.  And then on hook number 100, was a bull shark.  This shark had been snacking along the line and got caught in the process.

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Bull shark caught on the last hook of a very productive bout of fishing (Photo courtesy of Lisa Jones, NOAA)

And I haven’t even mentioned the red snappers.  I will save them for another post, but they are absolutely beautiful creatures.

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Red snapper being measured

 

Personal Log:

I definitely continue to feel out of my element at times, especially as we were pulling in all these hooks with sharks on them, and I could barely keep up with my little job of tracking when a fish came on the boat.  All the sharks started running together in my mind, and it was definitely a bit stressful.  Overall, I feel like I’ve adjusted to the cadence of the boat rocking and have been sleeping a lot more soundly.  I continue to marvel at how amazing it is that we’re relatively close to shore but, except for a few songbirds desperate for a rest, there is no evidence of land that my untrained eyes can detect.  Lastly, I’ve realized that a 12-hour sampling shift is long.  I have a lot of respect for the scientists and crew that do this for months on end each year with just a few days break every now and then. Well, it time to pull in another line.  Next time, we’ll talk snapper.