Channa Comer: The Voyage Begins, May 13, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Channa Comer

On Board Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
May 11 — 22, 2011

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Leg 1
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: Friday, May 13, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 13.7C, Partly Cloudy
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Water Temperature 13.1C
Swell Height: 0.1 meters

Newspaper clipping

A newspaper clipping about how important food on working ships is, especially ice cream

Science and Technology Log
Day 1 – Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The coastal Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp set sail at around 2PM on Wednesday, May 11th from Lewes, DE. There are 13 members on the science team, six who are volunteers (including myself), and nine crew members. On the first day, we met for introductions, a briefing on the schedule of the day and safety instructions.

The Hugh R. Sharp is 146 ft research vessel, weighs approximately 490 tons and has a cruising speed of about 10 knots. The vessel is diesel-electric with all the comforts of home (satellite television, heat, hot water, laundry facilities), and can be at sea for a maximum of 30 days. The vessel is configured with a pilothouse (at the top) and three decks. The “below decks” which is the bottom-most deck has the bulk of the ship’s machinery and crew cabins. The main deck is where most of the action happens. It houses the portable lab van where each catch is processed, a dry lab which houses the computers used for the survey, a wet lab, dredging equipment and the all important galley and mess area. There is also a small conference room where members of the crew can be intermittently found working, reading, listening to music, or eating ice cream.

Once we were out to sea, the team got to work preparing for a test tow of the scallop dredge. The dredge is 8ft wide and is made of a metal frame from which netting and a bag constructed of rings is attached aftward. It is lowered with a winch off the stern of the vessel and descends to depths that range from 30 meters to 150 meters. As the ship moves at a speed of 3.8 nautical miles per hour for 15 minutes, the dredge scrapes the sea floor. A test tow is conducted near the shore to make sure this important equipment is working properly.

The focus of this NOAA Fisheries cruise is to survey the population of Placopecten magellanicus, the deep-sea scallop that is commercially fished and sold to the public. Chief scientist Victor Nordahl (NOAA-Fisheries) is the head of the team of researchers and coordinates all aspects of the survey. The NOAA Fisheries Service monitors the populations of sea scallops in the federal waters on the Eastern continental shelf of the U.S. In 2007, scallops represented the most valuable commercial fishery, along with lobsters. It is critical to monitor their populations to avoid over-fishing of these waters. Fishing areas are either open or closed, meaning that fishing is either allowed or not. Closed areas allow time for repopulation of the area of the commercial species.

Temperature and depth are important for scallops. The species we are studying are found in waters cooler than 20C (68F) along the North Atlantic continental shelf area between Newfoundland and North Carolina. In the 12-day time period of this survey, we will conduct approximately 15 sampling stations per day, working 24hrs a day with two crews working in 12 hour shifts. I’ve been assigned to a six person day crew with Jakub Kircun serving as watch chief.

New Term/Phrase/Word
Head = bathroom
Stateroom = bedroom
Fathom = 6 feet

Personal Log
Day 1 – Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Being on board a vessel for the first time is like being in a foreign country with a new language and new customs to learn. Everyone on board has been very helpful and generous in sharing their knowledge, advice and experience. The crew, NOAA staff and other volunteers are an eclectic bunch from all over (Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Germany, Honduras, and France). Vic, chief scientist for the cruise, has been especially kind, taking the time to answer my many questions and make sure that I’m comfortable with all the new information and procedures. Sara, my bunkmate is a pleasure and we’ve gotten along great so far. After the first day, we only see each other in passing at meals since we’re on opposite shifts. I’m looking forward to a great adventure!

Day2 – Thursday, May 12, 2011
Today is day two and my first full 12-hour shift (from 12 noon until midnight).The first day was rough since we spent most of the day getting ready to leave and then heading out to the site where we would bring up our first catch. I was a little sick the entire day, eating lots of crackers and ginger. I’m sleeping in a small cabin with a desk and two bunkbeds — with NO LADDER. My bunkmate Sara, is a graduate student from Germany and since she got to the boat first, she got to choose the bunk. Guess which one she chose?! After a few bruises on my shins, I’ve pretty much figured out the best way to get in and out of my bunk without getting hurt. Today I learned how to identify a few different species of fish and how to shuck scallops, which is my least favorite activity so far since they’re still alive and sometimes fight back while you’re shucking them (Ugh!).

Did You Know?
A nautical mile is a measure of distance used at sea is derived by dividing the circumference of the earth by 360, then by 60 and actually represents minutes of latitude covered over the earth. One nautical mile is equivalent to approximately 1.2 statutory miles.

Anne Byford: June 11, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Anne Byford
Aboard: R/V Hugh R. Sharp

Mission: Sea Scallop Surveys
Location: Off the Coast of New England
Date: June 11, 2010

Weather Data at 1:35pm EDT:
Clear, 14.4˚C
Location at 1:35pm EDT: Lat: 40 30.07 N Long: 69 08.66 W
Water Depth: 77.5 m

4th Day at Sea

Why Count Sea Scallops?

That had to be the most common question I got asked before coming on this trip. Much of the information below is from the NOAA FishWatch website (www.nmfs.noaa.gov/fishwatch/species/atl_sea_scallop.htm).

Economically, sea scallops are an important species; in 2008 the scallop harvest was about 53.5 million pounds and was worth about $370 million. The population is not currently considered to be overfished and has been above minimum sustainable levels since 2001. Formal management began in 1982 with the Atlantic Sea Scallop Fisheries Management Plan. The management plan includes limiting new permits, restrictions on gear and on the number of crew on a boat. Since about 2000, the biomass of scallops has been increasing. Biomass is estimated by using the weight of scallops per tow on cruises like this one. Combinations of biomass estimates and estimates of the commercial catch are used to update and adjust the management plan.

Sea Scallops (Placopecten magellanicus) are filter feeders. They can live up to 20 years and begin reproducing at about 2 years, with maximum fertility reached at 4 years. A single female scallop can produce up to 270 million eggs in her life. This high reproductive capacity has helped the scallop population recover relatively quickly. Gender can be determined by the color of the gonad; females are orange while the male gonad is white. Adult scallops average between 6 and 7 inches from hinge to tip (called height) but can be as big as 9 inches. Age can be estimated by counting the rings on the shell. Scallops can “swim” by opening and closing the two shells. This is a useful adaptation for escaping from predators, including flounder, cod, lobsters, crabs, and sea stars. Scallops are harvested for the adductor muscle (the one that opens and closes the shell). There is no commercial aquaculture of scallops in the US as of August 2009.

Personal Log

A storm moved through beginning on Wed. evening (day 2) and stayed with us most of Thursday. By the end of shift on Wednesday, we were working on deck in full foul weather gear and life jackets. Thursday we had an 8 hour steam between dredge sites and by the end of shift on Thursday, the seas had begun to smooth out. Friday was quite nice, weather-wise.

I am learning to shuck scallops, though I am about half the speed of many on the boat. I am also learning to tell the various types of flounder and other fish apart as well. It’s not always obvious which type of flounder or hake is which.

New Species

Goose fish (aka monk fish), several more varieties of flounder, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, eel pout, some very large skates, 3 types of sea stars and 1 type of brittle star.