Maggie Flanagan, July 10, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Flanagan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean; Necker Island
Date: July 10, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea Maggie Flanagan measures a lobster carapace.

Maggie Flanagan measures a lobster carapace.

Science and Technology Log – Lobster Lessons 

We’ve hauled back our last string of traps and have begun the transit back to Pearl Harbor. Our Northwestern Hawaiian Island (NWHI) lobster survey has provided the 2007 data for a record that goes back 30 years. Our Chief Scientist, Bob Moffitt, is a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service within NOAA. Bob completed his first lobster survey in 1977, and has been continually involved with the project. The model we still use was established in 1985-86, and there has been survey data nearly every year since then.  The two sites we monitor are Necker Island (Mokumanamana, in Hawaiian) and Maro Reef (Nalukakala, in Hawaiian).  Necker Island is closer to the Main Hawaiian Islands, 430 miles from Honolulu.  Maro Reef is farther out the NWHI, 850 miles from Honolulu.  Target species are spiny lobsters (Panulirus marginatus) and slipper lobsters (Scyllarides squammosus).

Initial analysis of the data includes computing our catch per unit effort (CPUE), which is the total number of lobsters in traps divided by the number of traps.  The data are separated by site, by species – spiny or slipper lobster, and by number of traps in the string, – 8 or 20. (Strings of 20 are often set in deeper water.)  The mean for all strings of a type in a year is used for comparisons.  Bob works up the numbers each evening to keep us posted.  

You can’t draw conclusions from just a few numbers, but a sample of CPUE information is below.

In 2007, Necker Island sampling was suspended for several days and the data may be biased towards historically less productive quadrants.

In 2007, Necker Island sampling was suspended for several days and the data may be biased towards historically less productive quadrants.

Graphing the entire data set reveals that Necker Island experienced a sharp decline in the presence of both types of lobsters during the mid to late 1990’s, and the numbers have remained low.  Graphs of Maro Reef data show a more complex story.  There, spiny lobsters dropped dramatically in 1989. Spiny lobster numbers remained low, as slipper lobster numbers increased. It’s proposed that as spiny lobsters were decreasing, slipper lobsters could access more resources, such as food and habitat, which expanded their numbers.  The spiny lobster has had more commercial value because it looks prettier, and so was probably targeted more by fisherman.

Teacher at Sea Maggie Flanagan holds spiny lobsters while “cracking” – recovering lobsters from traps.

Maggie Flanagan holds spiny lobsters while “cracking” – recovering lobsters from traps.

Commercial fishing for lobsters in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands began with multi-purpose vessels which would keep the lobsters live for market. About 1981, fisherman started landing only the lobster tail, which was frozen at sea.  This greatly increased the capacity for the taking of lobsters. Data showed decline, fisheries scientists became concerned, and the fishery was closed in 1993, then opened with very low quotas.  By 1997, research data still showed decline and the NWHI commercial lobster fishery was closed again in 2000.  Models at that time showed that NWHI lobster overfishing (meaning the size and take of the fleet) wasn’t problematic and research that focused on the lobsters themselves would be needed.

When lobsters are tiny, in the phylosome stage, they are transported by currents.  Spiny lobsters spend 12 months in this stage and have been caught in plankton tows 60 miles out at sea.  So, lobsters can settle in sites far away from their parents.  This recruitment may or may not influence the population numbers of lobsters in the NWHI, but as a real possibility, is a topic for research. Bob Moffitt’s data, with that of other NWHI scientists, could contribute to a metapopulation model that could estimate the density of lobsters throughout all the NWHI over time.  This could be designed to scientifically predict the affects of fishing and recruitment.  DNA analysis could also reveal information on the transportation of lobsters when juvenile.

In 2006, all the NWHI were included in the creation of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which will be closed to all fishing.  The Monument is the largest marine protected area in the U.S., but the research questions on what will help Hawaiian lobster populations still remain to be answered.  Ocean currents in the area generally run to the west and south, and if juvenile lobsters are transported, they would be traveling those currents. But the marine protected area is already west of the Main Hawaiian Islands, so recruitment out to restore other areas seems unlikely, though not yet tested.    There is reason to celebrate our new Marine National Monument, but there is no conclusive scientific evidence that it will help lobster populations recover.

A slipper lobster as compared to a pencil.

A slipper lobster as compared to a pencil.

Personal Log 

With all fisheries closed in the NWHI, what will happen to the fisheries research that has  contributed much to the understanding of marine populations?  Will scientists be allowed to continue pursuing research questions, or will they be considered irrelevant?  Approval for access to the NWHI under the Monument status now involves an arduous permit process, even for scientists.  Bob Moffitt’s work has provided an extensive time series of data, and is considered worth continuing as ecosystem monitoring.  Hopefully in the future, scientific work will continue and guide policy making for protected areas.  

Maggie Flanagan, July 9, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Flanagan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean; Necker Island
Date: July 9, 2007

Meaghan Darcy with a 70.2cm opakapaka (Pristopimoides filamentosus).

Meaghan Darcy with a 70.2cm opakapaka (Pristopimoides filamentosus).

Science and Technology Log – Interview with Meaghan Darcy, scientist 

Meaghan Darcy, from Rhode Island, is a research technician for our lobster survey.  We spend our days helping with lobster traps, but in the evenings our science work includes sampling the many species of bottomfish in the Hawaiian Islands.  Meaghan is a Ph.D. candidate working with the Fisheries Center and Department of Zoology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, specializing in Hawaiian bottomfish.  Meaghan has always been interested in biology, but a semester of study in the Caribbean  included research with fisherman and inspired her to pursue the science of fisheries.

What is the focus of your current research? 
Meaghan is working on a management strategy evaluation for the Hawaiian bottomfish fishery.  The bottomfish fishery targets about 13 different species across 3 designated zones, which are fished at depths of 50 to 600+ feet using hydraulic hand lines with up to 10 hooks per line. The targeted bottomfish include several snappers (ehu, opakapaka, onaga, kalekale, gindai, and lehi), grouper (hapu`upu`u), and jacks (kahala, butaguchi, and ulua). One reason bottomfish are popular as a commercial product is that they don’t feed much on reefs, and so are less likely to carry ciguatera poisoning, however, kahala has been associated with ciguatera and is no longer highly sought after. The first step in evaluation is to use a simulation model to simulate the data gathering process (i.e., simulate catch and effort data that would be similarly collected for the commercial fishery). Meaghan will then use an estimation model to estimate bottomfish abundance relative to a target abundance using the simulated catch and effort data.  Based on the results from the assessment model, a management policy is set and applied to the simulation and estimation models to determine the policies impact.  Using this approach, the potential success of a variety of different possible fishery management strategies can be evaluated.  Meaghan will also apply this approach using the Hawaiian bottomfish commercial fishery data and her conclusions will offer insight on best management practices for the Hawaiian bottomfish fishery. 

Teacher at Sea Maggie Flanagan with a 71.2cm hapu`upu`u (Epinephelus quernus)

Teacher at Sea Maggie Flanagan with a 71.2cm hapu`upu`u (Epinephelus quernus)

What are the challenges in your research? 
The Hawaiian bottomfish is a multi-species fishery, where several different species may come up on the same line. This simultaneous capture makes scientific evaluation of the fishery more difficult.  The reported catch per unit effort (CPUE) data is not species specific, and this grouping ignores differences in the life histories and catchabilities of different species. Different habitats preferred by juveniles and different ages of maturity and breeding lumped together in management may influence decline of one bottomfish species, while not another.

Some of the management strategies have drawbacks along with potential benefits. Currently in the Main Hawaiian Islands, the bottomfish fishery is being managed under a seasonal closure policy during peak spawning periods (May 15, 2007 – October 1, 2007) to maximize the number of fish breeding. Over the next couple of years Hawaii is moving towards a quota system where a total allowable catch (TAC) will be set. Under a quota system when the TAC is reached, the fishery is closed for the remainder of the year.  In practice, TAC can produce a “race for the fish” which encourages competition at the expense of conservation while fishing. Quotas can be effective, but require the infrastructure for widespread monitoring in real time and making annual assessments.  Size limits are another possible strategy, which could be complicated by the multi-species nature of the fishery.

Another possible strategy would be to establish marine protected areas,where commercial fishing isn’t allowed.  This may lead to increased pressure on other marine areas, if fishing effort isn’t reduced, but just forced to relocate.  Now that the North West Hawaiian Islands have become part of the Marine National Monument, commercial fishing is being phased out of those waters and the management strategies evaluated in Meaghan’s thesis will be mainly relevant to the Main Hawaiian Islands, which already suffer from overfishing. Through acknowledging these challenges in her research, Meaghan is developing novel approaches to management strategy evaluation.  Her objectives include modeling the fishermen’s behavior to better understand how they will respond to different management strategies, and identifying effective management tactics for the multi-species nature of this fishery.

What inspires you about your work? 
Meaghan is excited to be working on real issues in fisheries, where her efforts are applied to real situations. She’s interested in quantitative expertise and population dynamics as tools for her work. Hawaii has recently begun expanding management of the bottomfish fishery, and recommendations through Meaghan’s evaluation will be very relevant for developing policy.

Personal Log 
Besides teaching me about the Hawaiian bottomfish fishery, Meaghan also taught me how to work the fishing gear. She is a wonderful role model for women in science, and a great crewmate!

Maggie Flanagan, July 7, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Flanagan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean; Necker Island
Date: July 7, 2007

A turkeyfish and white spotted toby found in lobster traps.

A turkeyfish and white spotted toby found in lobster traps.

Science and Technology Log – Bycatch 

Though spiny and slipper lobsters are our target species for sampling, many other interesting creatures are interested in our bait, and wind up in our traps.  Some of the smaller creatures spend a little time in our on board aquarium for observation and acclimation.  These fish are upside down because their swim bladders, which regulate buoyancy in the ocean, have not yet adjusted to the surface (barotrauma).  They wouldn’t survive if they were immediately released. The turkeyfish, aka Hawaiian lionfish, Dendrochirus barberi, is red/orange with large fins. It has venomous spines in its dorsal (back) fin, and will lunge pointing them at a threat.  We used a net instead of gloves to observe this one. This fish in known to enjoy a meaty diet, eating other smaller fish. The Hawaiian white spotted toby, Canthigaster jactator, is a sharp nose puffer, brown with white spots. This toby is endemic to Hawaii, found naturally only in Hawaii.  These fish can make themselves swell in size to ward off predators by filling their stomachs with water. They carry a toxin in their skin, which can harm other aquarium creatures if released.

Swimming crab (Charybdis paucideutis?) and hermit crab (Dardanus brachyops)

Swimming crab (Charybdis paucideutis) and hermit crab (Dardanus brachyops)

The red figure in the background of the above photo is a sea hare, Aplysioidea, aka sea slug. These invertebrates are hermaphroditic, carrying both male and female sex organs. We also encounter a variety of crabs with a variety of adaptations.  Hermit Crabs, Dardanus,  have been the most numerous in our traps, and there are reported to be up to 2000 species of hermit crabs world-wide.  They take over the shells of marine snails and keep their soft abdomens tucked inside. Many of the hermit crabs we’ve found in the North West Hawaiian Islands take protection even one step further – they keep anemones on their shells. The anemones eject bubble-gum-pink stinging threads called acontia when threatened. We wear gloves when handling the crabs to protect ourselves. Scientists have discovered that the anemones don’t live on the shells when the snail is alive, and that hermit crabs will actually move their anemones from shell to shell as they move to new shell homes.  They figure that the anemones benefit from mobility with the crab and from food particles spread by the hermit crabs as they rip and shred.

Swimming Crabs, Charybdis, are the most aggressive crab in the trap.  In both body and behavior they’re similar to the blue claw crabs of my home waters, so I was prepared for their quick attempts to pinch and slice my fingers.  Their last pair of legs is oval like a paddle – perfect for swimming. On board, we call the box crab, Calappa calappa, the Vader crab. Its claws fold perfectly into its oval body, making it look like the face mask of that notorious space villain. These crabs can be mean too; those wide claws are powerful and help the crab eat mollusks.  Imagine how well camouflaged it is folded up down in the sand.

A box crab (Calappa calappa), a.k.a., the Vader crab

A box crab (Calappa calappa), a.k.a., the Vader crab

Personal Log 

During our lobster survey work, we catalogue the other animals that also get in the traps, and release them as healthy as possible. The creatures that you catch unintentionally are generally called bycatch. A current issue in commercial fishing is animals killed and wasted because they’re caught as bycatch, and not sold or eaten.  Many times they’re dumped back in the sea dead.  It’s a complicated issue on a global scale considering the definitions of what makes bycatch, all the different kinds of fishing gear, the variety of marine ecosystems, applications of technology, and the multiple political and economic groups involved.  There are many figures being reported, from 30% to over 50% of the take winding up as wasted bycatch, or perhaps 28 million metric tons world-wide. But, statistics on this topic are difficult to determine, which makes solving the problem even more difficult.  Technology has innovated some fishing gear which particularly reduces the bycatch of sea turtles and marine mammals, and recent focus on bycatch by type of fish and type of gear may inspire more solutions to this serious problem.

Maggie Flanagan, June 30, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Flanagan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean; Northwest Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 30, 2007

Science and Technology Log – Setting and Hauling Traps 

Maggie Flanagan, scientists, and ship’s crew work together to set lobster traps

Maggie Flanagan, scientists, and ship’s crew work together to set lobster traps

We’ve worked a lot with lobster traps by now, and I’ve had the chance to try every part of the job. The science crew works closely with the experienced fisherman of the ship’s crew – it takes teamwork!  We take turns preparing bait in the early morning.  Thawed mackerel are sliced twice through the middle – be sure to expose the guts which release fluids and oils that are especially attractive to our targets. Later, the traps are set in strings of 8 or 20. Historic data is based on strings of 8, which is why they’re still used even though experience has shown labor is more effective with strings of 20. The traps are all clipped to a gangion, a short line that is spliced (woven) into the length of the ground line (main line of the string) at 20 fathoms (120 feet) apart.  Buoys are clipped in at one end for strings of 8 and at both ends for strings of 20.  A little entertainment comes from the fun names on our buoys which are called out over the radio – Big Momma, 8-ball, Spifferino, Easy Target.  Sadly, we lost the 8-ball float, which is the only gear we’ve lost so far.  Setting baited traps happens from the fantail, or aft working deck, of the ship.  The stackers (scientists on trap duty) lift and shuffle the traps up to the diamond plate (steel non-slip) at the very stern of the ship. A large pallet tub of our line waits there, with eye splices (loops) for attaching gear carefully stacked on a small pipe, keeping the loops ready, in order, and clear from the many coils of line in the tub.   The crew clips a buoy or a trap to a gangion and carefully sends it off the stern.  After beginning the string, the traps slide off on their own with the momentum of the line paying out.

Hauling back lobster traps in the pit aboard OSCAR ELTON SETTE

Hauling back lobster traps in the pit aboard OSCAR ELTON SETTE

Everyone has to be careful to not accidentally step in a loop of line and get dragged off too.  While the traps are going over another crew member, the heaver, manages the tension on the line by guiding it off the stern with a stick in great sweeping arcs.  All the while the Chief Bosun, or supervisor, is in radio communication with the bridge to ensure strings are set at the prescribed depth and location. For our data standards, the traps soak overnight. Hauling back the traps happens in the pit, the low open area along the port side of the ship. The officer at the sticks (steering) operates from a side wing of the bridge, and the Chief Bosun operates the pot hauler, a wheel at the top of a tall J frame that helps pull in the line. As the bridge maneuvers close up to the buoy, a crew member throws the messenger (a 4 pronged type hook) to catch the buoy warp (rope). Once the crew pulls in and unclips the buoy, the ground line is led through the pot hauler, and with a steady hiss the traps are brought up. The pot hauler pauses briefly for each trap to be unclipped, and they’re slid down a table to the crackers (members of the science party) to open. Pretty quickly you open, remove creatures to a bucket, remove old bait, fill new bait, and close the trap. Everything and everyone in the pit gets wet and splashed with mackerel juice.  A bucketeer keeps order of the specimens collected and helps with sharks and eels.  A runner brings the specimens and trap out of the pit. Traps are re-stacked on the fantail and specimens go to the Wet Lab, where the intermediary, assistant, and measurer (more members of the science party) work to catalog them. Overhead, the ground line runs through fair leads (hanging metal circles) back to the pallet tubs on the fantail, where another crew member coils the line back in and stacks the gangion eyes in order.  

The lobsters can surprise you with powerful snaps of their tails.  The assistant has to hold them firmly while the measurer uses a digital caliper to find the length of the carapace (back of the shell) in millimeters. On certain females, we also measure the exopod part of the first left pleopod (appendages under the tail), which can indicate level of maturity.  Females with eggs, spongy masses of tiny round orange or brown specks under the tail, are said to be berried. We also check the lobsters for PIT tags by waving them in front of a scanner – like electronic checkout at the supermarket.  These tags are the same type implanted in pets and if sensed, the scanner shows that lobster’s unique number.  After all the specimens have been recorded, or when a tagged lobster needs to go back in the same quadrant, the intermediary does a dump, releasing them.  Lobsters are dumped through a special cage lowered on the pot hauler, which is designed to deliver them back to the bottom without exposing them to sharks.

Personal Log 

It’s hard to say which job in the lobster survey is my favorite.  Cracking open the traps is certainly the center of the action, but quite a wet, messy job.  Being the measurer makes you feel closely involved with the scientific process, but keeps you working inside.  Stacking empty traps is not as interesting, but happens out in the sun while talking and listening to music. I guess I’m enjoying all the jobs, and certainly learning a lot. Since I began writing, we had to stop our lobster survey for a few days to offer medical assistance to another scientist camping on one of the islands.  It wasn’t life threatening, thank goodness, and we’re back to work soon.

Maggie Flanagan, June 26, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Flanagan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean; Necker Island
Date: June 26, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Maggie Flanagan, repairs a trap aboard NOAA Ship OSCAR ELTON SETTE.

NOAA Teacher at Sea, Maggie Flanagan, repairs a trap aboard NOAA Ship OSCAR ELTON SETTE.

Science and Technology Log 

We just spent an exciting week setting lobster traps at Maro Reef. Sliced mackerel is our preferred bait, and we scrub the bloody patches that drip to deck every day. We hauled back many lobsters, as well as eels, crabs, urchins, and fish. Shark and Octopus can really break up the traps, and ocean conditions can be hard on the gear, so we make repairs as needed. I was proud to put my sailor skills to work helping to splice new bridles on traps.  (Splicing is weaving a line back into itself to create a loop, which is used to attach the trap to a fishing line).  In the past week our Commanding Officer, Karl F. Mangels, shared a little history on The Marine National Monument area created out of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.  This status is the most protected, but also complex to initiate.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA, and the State of Hawaii, among others, have targeted this area for preservation for many years.  Recently President Bush moved quickly to legalize the Monument status, but it is taking time to work out the details of regulations and procedures, considering the multiple jurisdictions involved.

Regulations indicate all activities must be approved by permit, including scientific research, and all ships must have vessel monitoring systems.  But, access for native Hawaiian cultural activities is preserved as several of the islands are ancient holy sites.  Midway Atoll retains special status and will be open to more public visitation. All commercial fishing in the Monument waters will be phased out by 2011, and oil and gas exploration and extraction is prohibited. Having been part of a research crew in the Monument for a week now, I appreciate all these efforts at conservation. There is little dry land surfacing out of the Pacific here, but the bird life and sea life are precious, including rare seals, sea turtles, and albatrosses.

Watch out when there’s an eel in your trap!  Most of the local species have sharp teeth, and are quick and eager to use them to gain their freedom.

Watch out when there’s an eel in your trap! Most of the local species have sharp teeth, and are quick and eager to use them to gain their freedom.

Personal Log

Working at sea makes me think often of the legacy of sailors before me.  Though he was a global voyager, Captain James Cook’s influence is heavily felt in the Pacific.  He honed his seamanship skills in the coasting collier (coal cargo) trade in Britain and honed his surveying skills in Canada, helping the British Navy fight the French.  He charted the St. Lawrence River and the coast of Newfoundland, but was a surprise choice among his contemporaries for the Pacific voyages due to his lack of noble title and lack of Royal Navy training. His first command aboard Endeavour in 1768 was to observe the transit of Venus viewable from Tahiti.  A replica of Endeavour now sails out of Australia, and for $1,000 Aussie you can too! The mission of Cook’s second voyage to the Pacific in 1772 was to “complete the discovery of the Southern Hemisphere.”  He took command of Resolution and penetrated the Antarctic circle several times.

Both Endeavour and Resolution were converted North Sea colliers, sturdy vessels familiar to Cook from his merchant marine experience. For the third voyage, Resolution also carried the latest equipment, including a Gregory Azimuth Compass, apparatus for distilling fresh water from seawater, and a new five inch marine chronometer, the K1, by Larcum Kendall.  The chronometer provided for even better chart making as it was easier to use than lunar measurements and proved more accurate for finding longitude.  In 1778, sailing to find a northwest passage between the Atlantic and Pacific, Cook encountered the Hawaiian Islands. Natives were friendly to the Captain and his crew, and when Resolution’s foremast cracked badly in February 1779, they returned to Kealakekua Bay on the big island of Hawaii to down rig the mast and float it to the beach for repairs.  Misunderstandings developed as from both sides, resources were taken and tempers flared.

When Cook went ashore with marines to seek settlement, a crowd gathered and became aggressive. Cook shot a Hawaiian, and in the retreat to the bay, Cook was clubbed and stabbed from behind, dying in the surf.  Two other important figures were also witnesses that day in Kealakekua Bay.  William Bligh of Bounty infamy was one of the ship’s officers, and Kamehameha, who unified the islands to become the first King of Hawaii, was nobility of the village ashore. Cook left quite a legacy of knowledge with his charts and logs, and a legacy of British influence around the globe.  He accomplished surveys of the Pacific from Australia to Alaska.  Resolution’s officers demanded Cook’s body be returned, but it came back as pieces of bone and flesh, which were buried at sea.  There is a monument to Captain Cook in the form of an obelisk on Kealakekua Bay, and it’s curious to think that perhaps missing parts of his remains are buried there.  Interestingly, that little part of Hawaii is technically British soil even to this day.  Now, Kealakekua Bay is also a Marine Life Conservation District filled with coral, schools of tropical fish, and even spinner dolphins – another legacy this historic site can offer for the future.

Maggie Flanagan, June 15, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Flanagan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean; French Frigate Shoals
Date: June 15, 2007

An anuenue (Hawaiian for rainbow) at sea

An anuenue (Hawaiian for rainbow) at sea

Project Log 
NOAA Ship OSCAR ELTON SETTE  Call Sign: WTEE
Length: 224 ft.; Beam (width): 43 ft.
Draft (hull depth beneath the water line): 15 ft.
Cruising speed: 10.5 kts.
Displacement tonnage: 2,301 tons

From the ship’s web site – “Dr. Oscar Elton Sette (is regarded) as the father of modern fisheries oceanography in the U.S. He formulated the concept that the “changing ocean” rather than “average ocean conditions” plays key roles in the natural fluctuations of fish stocks and their vulnerability to harvesting. He originated the importance of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches, including the interrelationships between fisheries, oceanography, and meteorology, to understanding and solving marine fisheries problems. Although he was a man with big ideas and many strengths and capabilities to implement them, Elton was a relatively small-built man who spoke softly. Whatever Elton sought out to do, he did so with vigor, dedication, and determination. Yet, he was notably inclusive, rather than exclusive, and was a firm believer of the power of teamwork to accomplish goals.  Dr. Sette was a gifted oral and written communicator. He possessed the wonderful ability to explain complex ideas, concepts, and scientific findings in a pragmatic, concise, straightforward, understandable, and clear manner.”

What a great model for our work!

Our ship was originally designed for another kind of ocean monitoring.  She was built for the Navy in Gulfport, MS as a submarine hunter and launched in 1987 as USNS ADVENTUROUS.  In 2002 she was transferred to NOAA and commissioned as NOAA Ship OSCAR ELTON SETTE the following year.  The vessel was recently homeported at historic Ford Island at the Pearl Harbor Naval Station.

Our mission – marine research by permit in one of our country’s newest preserves, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.  This area incorporates the North West Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) sanctuary, and is a state/federal partnership.  Our activities are part of a yearly effort by NOAA scientists and their University of Hawaii colleagues to record data on spiny and slipper lobster populations.  These creatures don’t have the famous claws of the New England lobsters I’m used to, but I understand their tails make for great surf and turf. As other stocks dwindled, lobster taking in the NWHI  increased. Around 1989 lobster populations collapsed, and despite restrictions on that fishery, have not recovered well. The scientists aboard are trying to understand and improve this situation.

We’re steaming northwest on our way to our first research area at Maro Reef.  Coils of yellow line and stacks of black traps fill the fantail or aft deck.  Inside the wet lab, a freezer full of whole mackerel wait to be prepared as bait.  Original plans were to collect data from Necker Island first, but this changed as the crew is also delivering fuel and supplies to the Fish and Wildlife Service on Tern Island at French Frigate Shoals.  When the time does come, it will be exciting to get the gear wet!