“The Little Ship That Could”

Nov. 12, 2018,

The Hugh R. Sharp left a sheltered anchorage behind Sandy Hook, New Jersey on Saturday night to continue sampling on the Fall Ecosystem Monitoring Survey for the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. We were forced in there on Friday by increasing winds and seas coming from the south, offering no lee for working along the southern shore of Long Island where we had hoped to conduct sampling for the Southern New England area of this trip. When a window of good weather window opened on Sunday and Monday, we grabbed that opportunity to conduct as much sampling as possible before returning to Woods Hole.

The weather has been our biggest challenge. Earlier on, it forced us to duck into Norfolk, VA to shelter from unworkable weather. While there we obtained a part for our winch which arrived after we had left port to return to work.

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Tim North using the Sharp‘s launch to pick up the winch part in Norfolk harbor. Photo by NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso

By launching a small boat the captain enabled us to retrieve the part, which was literally handed off to us at the dock, saving us a great deal of time. Moderating weather allowed us to work our way northward towards Southern New England waters until we were once again forced to heave to, this time in the Sandy Hook anchorage. Now on Monday, we find ourselves making excellent progress as we move further east around Nantucket Shoals where we will complete our survey before coming in to Woods Hole early on Tuesday morning, November 13, ahead of the next big storm system.

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Maura Thomas and Chris Taylor deploying the bongo plankton net array from the stern of the R/V Sharp. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/ Jerry Prezioso

As is typical for Ecosystem Monitoring Surveys, there are many lines of research being pursued while we are underway. Plankton tows and hydrographic-CTD water casts provide information on physical and biological aspects of the waters we are sailing through. The water column has been pretty well mixed in terms of temperatures and salinities, which is not surprising given the time of year and the numerous storms which have been roiling the waters almost incessantly.

We’ve seen flatfish larvae in many of the plankton samples taken in the Mid-Atlantic Bight area, despite often being buried in large numbers of salps. There have also been juvenile fish, possibly hake, in some of these samples, and in the Southern New England area we are seeing herring larvae at some stations.

More recently, a bloom of a reddish brown phytoplankton has been overwhelming everything else in our plankton samples.  It first appeared in the northern Mid-Atlantic Bight area and has persisted through most of our Southern New England stations,

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Our plankton nets were covered with this slimy phytoplankton coating on many tows in the Mid-Atlantic Bight and Southern New England. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/ Jerry Prezioso

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The phytoplankton formed clumps when washed into our collecting sieves.   Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso

(although not south of Nantucket Shoals) coating the plankton nets with a slimy brown coating, and congealing into a dark brown, almost black mass in our plankton sampling jars.Scientists at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography have expressed an interest in looking at this organism when we return and hopefully they may provide identification for us.

At the other end of the biological spectrum we have two observers who take turns on the flying bridge of the vessel, documenting and photographing birds, marine mammals and turtles they observe as we are sailing along between stations. They have amassed an awesome collection of photographs and observations on this trip.

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One of our two seabird observers, Nick Metheny, bundled up for observing from the flying bridge of the R/V Sharp.   Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso

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A northern gannet taking off as photographed by one of our seabird observers, John Loch. Photo by John Loch, Integrated Statistics

A researcher from the University of Maine is freezing seawater samples from different depths collected by our rosette water sampler for nutrient analysis when she gets to shore. We also have a graduate student researcher from URI who is filtering seawater and collecting data on how the optical properties of seawater are affected by the phytoplankton within it. His work dovetails with that of a satellite oceanographer from NESDIS who has been taking subsurface radiometer measurements during satellite overpass times on clear days. His data, together with the URI data, will help to ground-truth and better interpret what the satellites are recording from the sea surface.

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Charles Kovach deploying his submersible radiometer from the stern of the R/V Sharp.  Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso

This being our last day of sampling, for all the scientists on board I would like to extend a thank you to the tiny crew (there are only six of them!) of the R/V Sharp for the work they have done to enable us to sample at sixty stations despite all the awful weather we’ve had. Working aboard the Sharp has presented challenges for us, such as working off the stern, and transiting at only eight knots, but the crew has made every effort to have the Sharp be “the little engine that could” in terms of being able to accomplish as much as possible despite weather and some vessel limitations. They have worked with us on every aspect of this trip, planning the best routes, keeping the ship working, going ashore to pick up winch parts, deploying our sampling gear, and certainly keeping us well fed and comfortable!

Likewise, my scientific colleagues have demonstrated an amazing amount of patience and diligence on this voyage. They drove for ten hours to Delaware to board the Sharp, loaded and set it up without the benefit of any prior experience on it and did this as quickly as possible to maximize the time we’d have for sampling at sea. After all that, they still remain cheerful and good-natured while working twelve-hour and sometimes longer watches.

Thank you all very much!  It has been my pleasure to sail with all of you.

Happy Veterans Day everyone!

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
Hugh R. Sharp 1802 Fall Ecosystem

Weather Challenges, 14 Stations to Go

The Gulf of Maine (GOM) bottom longline survey is ongoing even though we have been dealing with challenges presented by the unfavorable weather conditions. Both vessels have completed four trips each and have collectively sampled 31 stations in the western and central Gulf of Maine.

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White hake being measured. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Dave McElroy.

Catches have been very heavy in the central GOM consisting mainly of spiny dogfish, thorny skates, white hake, Atlantic cod, haddock, cusk, as well as some red hake and goosefish. Staff have been busy collecting otoliths, or earbones,  for ageing and sex and maturity data from larger sized Atlantic cod, haddock, white hake and cusk. This data supplements other NEFSC survey data.

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White hake caught on the F/V Mary Elizabeth. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Calvin Alexander

Thorny skates are also tagged as part of our collaborative work with Dr. Jeff Kneebone of the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, and genetic samples were collected for genetics work being done at the University of Florida, led by Dr. Gavin Naylor. Dr. Gavin’s project is conducting a comprehensive analysis of thorny skate genetics across the species range in the Atlantic. They hope to better understand gene flow in the species, potential substructure in the population across their range, and the historical demography among regions.

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GoPro camera in cage for bottom type verification. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Calvin Alexander

A newly designed prototype for horizontal viewing of the bottom was tested on F/V Mary Elizabeth. It is hoped that this design would be more stable and improve the quality and consistency of bottom videos.

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Gulf of Maine sunrise with the moon just above the horizon at center. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Giovanni Gianesin

There are 14 stations left in the eastern Gulf of Maine, located at the outermost edge of our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). If the weather cooperates we anticipate two more trips would be sufficient to complete the survey.

Calvin Alexander
Northeast Cooperative Research Program

Fall EcoMon Survey Underway

Nov. 2, 2018

On Thursday, November 1, the University of Delaware vessel Hugh R. Sharp set sail from Lewes, Delaware to start the Fall Ecosystem Monitoring Survey (EcoMon) for 2018. The Sharp is a 146-foot-long  University National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS)

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Research vessel Hugh R. Sharp at its dock at the University of Delaware. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso

vessel and is being chartered by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center to continue our time series of hydrographic and biological marine sampling and data collection along the northeast coast of the United States. Dating back to 1992, the Ecosystem Monitoring Program  provides one of the best long-term marine databases in the U.S. and its value as a baseline for measuring the degree and pace of climate change is immeasurable.

This cruise has not had an easy start! Weather conditions have slowed the progress of the vessel to about half its cruising speed of 10 knots, so we are not making great progress as we head slowly and cautiously towards Cape Hatteras, the southernmost point of the survey area. We are still continuing to work, deploying bongo nets from the stern of the vessel and using a Niskin bottle rosette and CTD sampling array for hydro casts from the starboard side sampling station.

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Scientists Tamara Holzwarth-Davis and Chris Taylor hook up the hydrographic winch to a lab computer.  Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso

Every deployment is carefully planned and deployment trials were even conducted at the dock to help the scientists familiarize themselves with the vessel, and the crew of the Sharp to learn about our gear. It’s been a steep learning curve but everyone has worked hard to get the vessel underway as quickly as possible to minimize loss of days for sea sampling.

Three plankton tows and one hydro cast have been completed as we continue south on our first full day of sampling. One of the plankton tows, taken 30 miles off the Virginia coast, yielded three liters of salps in each of our bongo nets, with a large numbers of ten to fifteen millimeter shiny juvenile fish buried among them. The other plankton tows have been very light, which is not surprising since we’ve been in shallow inshore waters on this part of the trip.

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Scientists drawing water from the Niskin bottle rosette at the side sampling station on the R/V Sharp. Photo credit:  NOAA Fisheries/Jerry Prezioso

With increasing winds and higher seas forecast for this weekend, we are planning to tuck in to Norfolk and use the downtime to pick up a part for our winch. Hopefully the weather will improve next week!

Jerry Prezioso
Chief  Scientist
R/V Hugh R. Sharp 1802 Fall Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Cooperative Gulf of Maine Fall Bottom Longline Survey Underway

Note: This is the start of the fifth year of the cooperative Gulf of Maine bottom longline survey, conducted with two commercial longline fishing vessels and staff from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Cooperative Research Program. 

The 50-foot F/V Mary Elizabeth and 40-foot F/V Tenacious II departed over the weekend of October 13-14 to begin the first leg of the Gulf of Maine bottom longline survey.  F/V Mary Elizabeth departed from Situate, Massachusetts on Oct. 13 with Brian Gervelis and Dominique St. Amand onboard, while F/V Tenacious II departed Sesuit Harbor in Dennis, Massachusetts on Oct. 14 with Dave McElroy and Christopher Sarro onboard. These two small fixed-gear vessels provide a great platform and expertise for completing this type of survey in the Gulf of Maine. The survey deploys tub-trawl longlines pre-baited with squid, similar to how vessels of this type fish commercially.

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Squid baited hooks of bottom longline gear. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Dave McElroy

Collectively both vessels sampled 10 stations in the western Gulf of Maine; nine stations were rough bottom and the other a smooth bottom. The survey focuses effort on complex hard bottom by substratifying the survey strata into rough and smooth bottom type using a depth based algorithm and the NOAA chart data. One of the primary objectives is to collect supplementary data in these hard bottom habitats to complement the other NEFSC surveys in these areas. The catches in the first trip were dominated by spiny dogfish with some Atlantic cod, haddock, red hake, cusk, four species of skates, one small Atlantic halibut, and one Atlantic wolffish.

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F/V Mary Elizabeth with high risers for the bottom longline gear. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Dominique St. Amand

The survey also collects temperature and depth data, and a current instrument is deployed on each end of the gear to measure the current velocity and direction over the gear during deployment.

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Bottom longline being deployed on F/V Tenacious II. Current meter (bottom right) is tethered to both ends of the gear. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Dave McElroy

Both vessels returned to their respective ports late in the afternoon on Monday, Oct. 15, due to the onset of unfavorable weather. Once the weather breaks the crews will be headed out to complete stations in the central and eastern portions of the Gulf of Maine.

Dave McElroy
Cooperative Research Program

Back to Greenland: Tagging Adult Atlantic Salmon

Research fisheries biologist Tim Sheehan is currently in Qaqortoq, Greenland with collaborator Jon Carr Vice President of Research and Environment for the Atlantic Salmon Federation tagging adult Atlantic salmon with special pop-off satellite tags. These special tags will help collect information about adult salmon movements and behaviors in and around Greenland, and during their migration back to their home rivers to spawn. Here’s what Tim’s reporting.

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Qaqortoq, Greenland as seen from the fjord. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Tim Sheehan.

The trip to get here was a solid 36+ hours capped off with a slow ferry (5+ hour) boat ride from Narsarsuaq to Qaqortoq, Greenland. Got in safe and sound late Tuesday night, October 2 and was on the water all day Wednesday, October 3.

Qaqortoq is located in southwestern Greenland on the Labrador Sea. Qaqortoq is the 4th largest town in Greenland. It is located within Igaliko Fjord and has a population of about 3,000.

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Qaqortoq, Greenland (red marker on map) is located in southwestern Greenland in the Labrador Sea. Photo credit: Google maps.

Trolling in the Fjord

On October 3 we were fishing with a local, trying to live capture and release adult Atlantic salmon with a pop-off satellite tag.

We are trolling in the fjord right outside of Qaqortoq. Trolling is a fishing method that drags lures through the water. While it’s an uncommon fishing method here, it’s a common technique across many parts of the world, especially the U.S.  It’s usually associated with recreational fishing as catch rates aren’t nearly as high as using gillnets, the more common (commercial) fishing approach for salmon at Greenland or other commercial gears.

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Mark Renkawitz, Center biologist also working on the tagging study, demonstrates how the pop-off satellite tags will be attached to adult salmon through their dorsal area using stainless steel wire. Tags (black housing with yellow tape and antenna) are connected to the black and green attachment bars. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Heather Soulen.

The local we’re working with has been trolling for salmon for 10+ years – mostly for fun and to catch a few fish for his own personal use. Fishing for salmon for fun in Greenland is very uncommon, as  I have encountered very few people here that recreationally fish for salmon.

Our first attempts at trolling were moderately successful.  We hooked a few fish and were able to tag and release one.

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Jon Carr of the Atlantic salmon Federation releases the team’s first tagged Atlantic salmon of the 2018 Greenland tagging trip. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Tim Sheehan.

Fish Traps Are Another Option

Jon Carr of the Atlantic Salmon Federation arrived a few days before me and set up different types of traps to try and passively catch salmon. They’re up and running and we shall see how they operate.

Stay tuned!

Tim Sheehan, NEFSC research fishery biologist

 

Leg I Home Stretch!

September 20, 2018

With a couple days left to fish, we’re closing in on the end of leg 1!  It’s that point in the leg when everything begins to look familiar and routine may have taken over.  But if you’re patient and keep your eyes open, you’re sure to see something.  With that said, here are some highlights from the last couple of days!

We woke up to an announcement that a large pod of common dolphins were jumping and swimming straight towards the boat.  There were at least 50 of them!  The whole show lasted 5-10 minutes, and just like that, they were gone.  It’s amazing how quickly these sightings come and go.

Video by Jennifer Casey, NOAA Fisheries

We’ve been sampling in deeper water these last couple of days, and a neat Scorpaenidae fish came up in the net.  It may look similar to our black belly rosefishHelicolenus dactylopterus, but there are some noticeable differences.  This fish is a bright orange color and has one extremely long dorsal spine.  When the mouth is open, you’ll see a bright yellow throat while the blackbelly rosefish’s is, as you would expect, black.

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Scorpaenidae are a group of predatory marine fish that includes scoropionfishes or rockfishes,   Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

Some lobsters we catch have lost one or both of their arms.  Though, it’s not a permanent state because they can be regrown, and that’s exactly what one of the lobsters we caught was doing!  At first glance, it may seem like it has only one arm, but look closer, and you can see that a replacement arm has just started growing.

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Lobster regrowing a new arm.  Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

At another station, we caught a beautiful starfish. We are wondering if it belongs to the genus Coronaster.  This animal has 11 delicate arms and is an orange-red color.  After pictures were taken, some arms were detached.  It seemed odd for that to happen so quickly and after minimal handling.  Perhaps it could be some kind of defense mechanism.  It will be brought back to the lab for further identification.

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Coronaster is a species of starfish, or sea star. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun.

A benefit of being on day watch, noon to midnight, is the chance to witness amazing sunsets.  When the weather is just right, the sky can be remarkable, and it’s difficult to resist taking a moment to be still and enjoy the view.

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Some day watch scientists,  watching the sunset after working up a station. Left to right: Kelcie Bean, Zackery Fyke, Lacey Bluemel, and Jennifer Casey.

Christine Kircun
Aboard the FSV Henry B. Bigelow
Fall 2018 Bottom Trawl Survey Leg 1

Very Small but Very Important

Sept. 14, 2018

Despite Hurricane Florence’s destruction on the Carolina coasts, the FSV Henry B. Bigelow has kept sampling stations at a steady pace.  We are currently outside Long Island, well out of the reach of the hurricane’s wind and rain.  As of now, it’s all clear for us to keep sampling stations and working up fish, but fish aren’t the only thing we’re catching in nets.

The ocean is amazingly diverse.  There are well known animals such as tuna, cod, and whales.  They could be valued for recreational enjoyment, commercial importance or intrinsic pleasure.  And there are numerous animals such as starfish, sea urchins, jellyfish, corals, and sponges that are only found in the ocean.  But there are hundreds of easily overlooked, very small yet vitally important species that benefit all living creatures, aquatic and terrestrial: plankton.

Simply put, plankton are very small, sometimes microscopic animals (zooplankton) and plants (phytoplankton) that drift in the water.  Found in both fresh and salt water, they are the base of the aquatic food web.  Not just that, but phytoplankton produce about half of Earth’s oxygen!  Because of their crucial environmental role, it is extremely important to study and monitor these fascinating organisms, and we have a protocol for doing just that on the bottom trawl surveys.

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Bongo nets. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

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Survey Technician Mark Bradley spraying the contents of a plankton net into a sieve. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

Plankton tows are cast at select stations on the FSV Henry B. Bigelow.  This is called a ‘bongo’ because the two nets used look like bongos.  The bongo is lowered over the sidesampling station to about 5-10m from the bottom, depending on the ground type and weather conditions.  As soon as it reaches its appropriate depth, it’s brought back to the surface.  This gives us a vertical profile of the organisms in that area.The nets are washed down into a sieve, and the plankton are preserved with formalin in glass jars which will be examined back on land after the survey is completed.

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Jar filled with plankton. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

Before the jars are preserved, a quick, first glance may leave the observer uninterested.  But simply wait a moment, and the jar comes to life!  Depending on the sampling location and time of year, ostracods, copepods, protozoans, jellyfish, mysids…. can be seen moving and zooming all over.  So the next time you’re enjoying the beach and gazing out on the water, know that it is far from empty!  You are actually watching thousands and thousands of plankton, working hard to support life in the ocean and on land.  So take a deep breath and say “Thank you!”

Plankton studies is not my area of focus, but it is for the people in the NEFSC Oceans and Climate Branch!  Check out their website at Oceans and Climate Branch for more information.

Christine Kircun
Aboard the FSV Henry B. Bigelow
Fall 2018 Bottom Trawl Survey Leg 1