Atlantic Salmon Sampling in Greenland Continues

Here in Qaqortoq the sampling has been going well the past two weeks and I’ve collected data on over 200 Atlantic salmon from the local market. There have been a couple slower days with fewer than half a dozen salmon, but on the flip side I’ve had days with over 40 salmon! I’ve been able to build a nice rapport with many of the fishermen who now often bring their catch directly to me and the sampling equipment before putting their salmon out for sale. On Tuesday I mentioned to the market manager that I wanted to do something for the fishermen and would be bringing pastries for them on Thursday. I meant for it to be a surprise but on Thursday “my regular” fishermen showed up with 44 Atlantic salmon! Maybe it was a coincidence, but I think the pastries had something to do with it – especially since the market manger told me they were looking forward to eating “cake.”

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View of Qaqortoq from a nearby hillside. Photo credit: Graham Goulette, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries.

Nearly every day a different cruise ship pulls into the harbor in the morning and an array of tourists from Western Europe, Australia, China, North America, etc. descend upon Qaqortoq to visit the local shops, cafes, and the market. I’ve had the opportunity to explain the West Greenland sampling program to many of them and they all appear very interested in the work being conducted. I explain the biological data I collect helps determine the health of the fish, the scale samples are used to age them, and a small tissue sample collected can be analyzed to identify the region of origin (i.e. the country and even region within a country that the salmon originated from).  I also do my best to explain the purpose of some of the other samples which I am collecting at the request of cooperating scientists from across North Atlantic (i.e., presence and counts of sea lice). Of course the tourists are surprised to see the array of critters for sale at the market in addition to the fish; seal, porpoise, whale and seagulls. Personally, I tried everything except the sea gull. Most wasn’t too bad, but I had to force a grin while chewing and swallowing the raw whale meat and skin.

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ASERT biologist Graham Goulette holds a large Atlantic salmon ready to be sampled. Photo credit: Audrey Dean, University of Waterloo.

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ASERT biologist Graham Goulette weighs an Atlantic salmon at the outdoor market in Qaqortoq. Photo credit: Audrey Dean.

There have been several days at the market without the market manager. On one such day I found myself trying to assist the fishermen with negotiating the sale of fish to a cruise ship. The ship’s personnel only spoke Dutch and English, and the fishermen speak either Greenlandic or Danish (or both), so there was a bit of confusion and all I could think to myself was “please don’t screw this up!” However, my familiarity with the prices of fish and which catch belonged to which fisherman helped the transaction go smoothly.

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A large Atlantic salmon brought to the market by a local fisherman. Photo credit: Graham Goulette, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries.

Audrey Dean, a colleague and graduate student from the University of Waterloo in Canada, has arrived and will be taking over the sampling for this international effort. I’ve spent a couple days showing her how to sample the Atlantic salmon at the market and getting her acquainted with the fishermen. The data she collects, along with all the data from other biologists located in different Greenlandic communities, will be compiled, analyzed and reported to the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES)s’ Working Group on North Atlantic Salmon (WGNAS). The WGNAS will use these data as inputs to their international stock assessment efforts to assess the status of Atlantic salmon populations across the North Atlantic.

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University of Waterloo graduate student Audrey Dean collects a scale sample from an Atlantic salmon at the outdoor market in Qaqortoq. Photo credit: Graham Goulette, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries.

I’m going to remember my time here in Qaqortoq well, but my photos can’t capture the real beauty of the village and landscape (and I took Photography I and II …over 20 years ago in high school). The experience has been great and I’m fortunate to have had such an awesome time here in Qaqortoq, but I’m ready to be home in a few days. The fishermen, and the entire community, have been very friendly and welcoming, but I’m excited to see my wife and kids! And our dog, Benny, too!

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Friendly looking Atlantic wolffish. Photo credit: Graham Goulette, NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries.

 

Restoring a stream — ear plugs required!

 

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Just me, some friends, a pair of ear plugs, and a post-driver. Photo by NOAA Fisheries

Hello, my name is Sarah Fields and I am interning at NOAA Fisheries through the WaYS [Wabanaki Youth in Science] program. I’m going into my senior year and this is my third year working with NOAA Fisheries out of the Maine Field Station here in Orono, ME.

Recently I got to help work on a restoration project on the  Narraguagus River, one of the last rivers in the United States that supports wild Atlantic salmon. The site we were at was historically used for transporting logs, to help this process the stream was widened and straightened. This caused the ecosystem of the stream to be thrown off balance, affecting turbidity and the natural flow of the water.

To bring the stream back to its natural condition, structures to correct the water flow are placed within the stream. To do this we took down a white pine that would take about 50 years to naturally fall on its own. Taking down this tree helped create a better habitat for fish and an ecosystem closer to what it should be. Trees and debris had in the past been cleared of this waterway due to the logging transportation taking place, the felling of this tree was essential to returning the stream back to its original conditions.

My day at the Narraguagus River started by helping to excavate roots from the white pine.  We spent the majority of the day finding roots and digging them up so that they could be severed with a chainsaw. After all the major roots were cut through, cables tied to the tree gave the tension it needed to fall.

After this success,  we worked on making a triangular structure out of sticks in the middle of the stream to disperse the direction of the water flow to both sides of the structure.

Wooden posts were also placed around the perimeter of the triangular structure to make it more secure. As  you can see from the photo up top, a post-driver was used to do this along with the help of a large wooden tripod to help handle the weight. After finding some earplugs for myself, I got to try out the post-driver.

I really enjoyed the hands-on experience as my first time helping with a restoration project.  Although I am not certain on what it is I want to do, marine science is definitely an option for my future career.

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The finished product — helping water flow using natural debris.  Photo by NOAA Fisheries

2,000 miles from home… in Greenland

August 25, 2017

Over 2,000  miles (3,200 km) away from my home in Maine, I find myself in a foreign yet beautiful landscape and a very different culture working with Atlantic salmon. I’m in Qaqortoq, Greenland participating in an international sampling program organized under the auspice of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) to collect valuable information on West Greenland’s harvest of Atlantic salmon. It took a bit to get here, and the final leg consisted of a two-hour ride through 6+ foot seas on what may have been a slightly undersized vessel for the conditions. One passenger was actually jostled from her seat to the floor when we came down one of the larger waves. The captain did well though, avoiding the larger icebergs and simply plowing through the smaller ones.

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Village of Qaqortoq as viewed from the local market. Photo by Graham Goulette, NOAA/NEFSC.

From August through October each year, Greenlandic fishermen harvest Atlantic salmon off their coast as part of an internal use only commercial fishery. To characterize the harvest and collect information needed for international stock assessment efforts conducted by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), NASCO helps establish a sampling program which the NEFSC organizes. In addition to myself, there are representatives in other Greenlandic communities from Canada, England, Ireland, and Scotland who are sampling salmon to determine their biological characteristics, age, country of origin, and also for the presence of tags to gain information on salmon migration timing and presence.  We are also collecting a host of other data and samples to help collaborating researchers learn more about other aspects of the salmon marine life as well as better understand the threats they face at sea.

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Fjord and mountain views from Qaqortoq. Photo by Graham Goulette, NOAA/NEFSC.

Abundant prey in the Labrador Sea off the west coast of Greenland attracts Atlantic salmon from North America, Iceland, and Southern Europe. Here, the ~ 8 inch juvenile salmon smolts that left their home rivers over a year ago find the rich food sources they need to nourish their bodies and grow to 30+ inches before migrating back to their natal rivers to spawn. In light of poor returns from the marine environment in recent decades, researchers like me are trying to garner as much information as we can to assist in determining why there aren’t more salmon coming back.

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A catch of Atlantic Salmon from a local fisherman. Notice the Arctic Char (spotted caudal or tail fin) laid on top. Photo by Graham Goulette, NOAA/NEFSC.

On my first day here I headed to the local market in the afternoon but it had already closed. There were a few people hanging around and I inquired about salmon. A lady who spoke a small amount of English pointed me towards a fisherman who in turn asked if “I liked to pay.” I explained I didn’t want to purchase any salmon, but that I wanted to sample them for the program. Well, he turned his back to me and walked away. However, over the next few days he was the first one to bring salmon into the market each day and allowed me to sample them (for free).

My typical day begins at the local market greeting fisherman as they come to shore with their morning’s catch (generally from gill net sets) and asking if I may sample their landings. Communication is a huge barrier, but with a few gestures and smiles the benevolent fishermen allow me to collect the information I need. Additionally, the market manager speaks English and has been an enormous benefit in assisting me with communicating with the fishermen. I only know how to say “thank you” in Greenlandic but a few more phrases would be of assistance. For example, one morning on the way to the local market I headed down a large stretch of narrow steps, probably the equivalent of 6 stories, and found myself  in the middle a group of 8 – 10 year old Greenlandic and Danish children who blocked my path. I said “excuse me” and one of them blurted out a phrase I took to mean as “huh?” The next few moments were pretty tense as the group of youths just stared at me. I could sense them sizing me up, but in the end they each stuck out a hand for me to shake and let me pass – close call!

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A nice landing of Atlantic Cod from a local fisherman. Photo by Graham Goulette, NOAA/NEFSC.

Often there is an array of species brought to market, ranging from the more abundant Atlantic cod, Atlantic salmon, Atlantic wolffish, redfish, and Arctic char. With the salmon the sampling can be fast and furious as I don’t want to squander a fisherman’s opportunity to sell his catch. Over the first two days of sampling I have seen and sampled 31 salmon. Three have had external tags. One tag indicated the fish came from Canada, while the other two had visual implant elastomer (VIE) tags.  There is a chance that maybe one of these fish actually came from the US and that I may have handled one of these fish a couple years earlier when they were only ~ 8 inches long and just heading out to sea.

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Barely visible, but to the upper left of the eye is a green visual implant elastomer tag. Photo by Graham Goulette, NOAA/NEFSC.

Sometimes at the end of the day I purchase something from the market to have for dinner. The other day I went to the grocery store to pick up a bottle of wine to pair with my meal. Much to my dismay there was a solid steel curtain enclosing the entire beer and wine section. I checked the time – 6:12 PM. The steel curtain drops at 6 PM sharp. Oh well, live and learn!

I will be here over the next two weeks so I hope to be able to collect much more information for the sampling program. Of course the weather may dictate how often the fishermen set or tend their gear, but I’m hoping the wind is fair and waters are calm.

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Curious snow bunting gawking in my direction. Photo by Graham Goulette, NOAA/NEFSC.

Graham Goulette
Atlantic Salmon Ecosystems Research Team (ASERT)
Maine Field Station, Orono`

A Day in the Life of Darius Sanford

by Dan Teano, SHIP intern

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Darius Sanford (Class of 2018) is a Marine Science major at Savannah State University located in Savannah, Georgia. After graduating next spring, Sanford plans to pursue a Master’s degree in Environmental Law or Environmental Policy. In his spare time, Darius reads and listens to current events worldwide and also writes science fiction novels.

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Sanford is a summer intern with the Sandy Hook Internship Program (SHIP) at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s (NEFSC) Howard Laboratory in New Jersey. Under the mentorship of NEFSC chemist Ashok Deshpande, Sanford is studying how microplastics end up in marine and estuarine ecosystems, specifically fish stomachs. Microplastics can have serious environmental, economic and health implications, understanding the sources and fates of it is important for cultivating healthy and productive ecosystems. To begin, Sanford must first collect an array of plastics from everyday household items and clothing fabrics, like this yellow plastic mesh.

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Next, Sanford needs to create a source library – a series of known plastics that when analyzed carries a uniquely identifiable chemical fingerprint. He uses an instrument called a Pyrolysis Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (Pyr-GC-MS) to create those chemical fingerprints. So far, Sanford has created 15 different chemical fingerprints for his source library.

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Once the source library is created, Sanford can process fish stomachs for evidence of microscopic pieces of plastic, called microplastics, that he’ll analyze for its chemical fingerprints to compare against his library. Standing a few steps back, Sanford watches as the fish stomach is processed by an ultrasonic probe which sounds like the pulsing of an electric drill boring through metal. The sonicator emulsifies and disintegrates the fish stomach tissue cells into a slurry. When the slurry reaches a Slushee-like consistency, Sanford will pour the slurry over a membrane filter and drain off the liquid. Using a microscope, he then collects items off the filter that at first glance look like small bits of microplastic.

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Darius then places each bit of microplastic in separate quartz tubes to be analyzed in the GC-MS. Here Sanford analyzes the microplastic sample by heating it to 650 degrees Celsius (1202 degrees Fahrenheit). At this temperature, the solid plastic polymer is pyrolyzed and transformed into a smaller gaseous fragment molecules, revealing its chemical fingerprint.

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As the sample runs, Sanford can see in real time the chemical fingerprint of his sample. He shows a fellow intern, Rory Kelly, three characteristic chemical peaks. This he says is a classic signature for polyethylene, a commonly used plastic for wrapping and containing food. With the accumulation of microplastics in estuarine and marine ecosystems an ever increasing scientific and societal concern, Sanford’s intern project helps fill our knowledge gaps surrounding the identification of polymer type and perhaps the source of products that turn into microplastics in the environment.

 

 

Too hot? Too cold? Or just right?

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NOAA Fisheries biologist Graham Goulette retrieves and downloads a temperature logger from the Narraguagus River in Downeast Maine. Photo by NOAA/NEFSC

Hi – I’m Graham Goulette.  As a member of the Atlantic Salmon Ecosystem and Research Team out of the NOAA Fisheries Maine Field Station in Orono, I maintain a series of temperature loggers deployed in juvenile Atlantic salmon rearing habitat as part of a statewide effort in Maine to monitor stream temperature. Collecting stream temperature may seem mundane, but sometimes it’s little tasks like this that provide significant contributions to much larger projects further down the road.

Temperature is important for all livings things, especially fish. They are ectothermic — which means they rely on their environment to manage their body temperature.  Different species tolerate different temperatures, however, Atlantic salmon and other cold-water species require cooler temperatures in order to survive. We focus on the endangered population of Atlantic salmon found in the Gulf of Maine and the watersheds where they can live.

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Juvenile Atlantic salmon resting in a gravel patch on the bottom of a cold- water stream near a logger site. Photo by NOAA/NEFSC

We place temperature loggers in streams so we can monitor temperatures in these important habitats throughout the time juveniles are developing. The loggers are collecting data that form a record of temperatures over time, one that has multiple purposes.

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Temperature data retrieved from the logger is uploaded to a laptop from a waterproof shuttle. The data are displayed to ensure proper collection and re-deployment of the logger before leaving the site. Photo by NOAA/NEFSC

For instance, in drought years like the summer of 2016, we can see how warm the water was in certain rearing areas for juvenile salmon, an indicator of whether conditions were good, or not so good, for juvenile salmon survival.  We know that at 22.5 oC, juvenile salmon stop growing.  If they are in 27.8 oC water for seven days, none survive. On the lower temperature end, at 3.8 oC they stop eating.  So stream temperature data from these rearing habitats are important for running growth rate models and can also provide an early glimpse into likely survival rates for juveniles in a given year.

Our temperature data are also contributed to a much broader stream temperature database. Data from federal and state agencies as well as universities and non-governmental organizations across the Northeastern U.S. from multiple collection efforts are shared, reducing duplication of effort.  This collaboration allows for a much larger geographical distribution of temperature collection than a single entity could tackle.

The entire database supports SHEDS — Spatial Hydro-Ecological Decision System – a data visualization and decision-support tool.  Among other things, SHEDS feeds a model that predicts daily mean water temperatures.  Forecasting stream temperatures is important for identifying where salmonids will find cool water refugia in the future. Have a look at the SHEDS public data viewer – search on NOAA as the agency and you’ll see what I have been up to this summer!

Natural light, fangs, and the g value

Sundown at sea viewed from stern of the Henry Bigelow

“Nothing beats the views from the boat1” Photo by NOAA/NEFSC/Cassie Fries

Hello from the ocean! I’m Cassie Fries, a recent graduate from Stony Brook University. I’m part of the oceanography crew aboard the Bigelow, and this is my first time out on a research vessel. It took a few days to adjust, but I can finally say I have my sea legs.

This has been an incredible opportunity for me, since I’m learning real world applications for different areas of marine research. Being on this cruise has taught me so much in just two weeks; and nothing beats the views from the boat!

Oceanography is on the night shift, which means we find all types of creatures in our nets. For me, a lot of these creatures are foreign, or it’s my first time seeing them not in a photo! Sometimes, we even find things that we cannot identify at first. It changes with stations, but we get larval fish in our nets.

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Lanternfish. Photo by NOAA/NEFSC/Cassie Fries

We have gotten Myctophids, which are commonly known as Lanternfish for their bioluminescence. At night, you can see their photophores along their body, which shimmer in the net. We have caught them at all sizes since they are one of the most common fish in the deeper layers of the sea.

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Dragonfish. Photo by NOAA/NEFSC/Cassie Fries

We have also caught crazy looking fish, like the Dragonfish! He is another deep-sea fish and he has a barbel that acts as a lure for him to attract prey.

As part of the oceanography team, it’s my job to titrate and find the g value of these animals, which is the ratio of density of the animal relative to the density of seawater. We do this by mixing seawater and a denser solution to find when the animal is neutrally buoyant . This is an important value to get, as bioacousticians need to model how much sound these animals scatter, which depends on how dense they are relative to the ocean.

We don’t just see fish in our nets, we also see small pteropods, salps, heteropods, amphipods, jellys, and larval crustaceans. There’s a whole lot going on in the water, especially on the zooplankton level. There is never a dull night with the oceanography crew!

Cassie Fries, Oceanography Team

Aboard the NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow

 

Animal surveillance

In our quest for turtles, we have traveled far and wide in the past 13 days. From Nova Scotia to New Jersey, we have kept almost constant watch during daylight hours in order to spot turtles basking in the sun, and in the process, we have seen many different marine creatures.

On July 8th, we awoke to pilot whales curious about the ship and they accompanied us for the entire morning.  A couple of days later, we crossed the Hague Line on the shelf of George’s Bank. Very soon after, we started seeing sperm whales,  some of them breaching – a behavior where they launch themselves  entirely out of the water landing in a large splash that we can see miles away! Sperm whales can dive to very deep depths and tend to inhabit waters around canyons. This habitat also attracts beaked whales, including Cuvier’s beaked whales which we also spotted. We saw more pilot whales and small groups of bottlenose dolphins, many of them jumping out of the water as well. Meanwhile, above the surface, we have encountered many pelagic seabirds that are expected in this area, including the shearwater, storm petrel, and gull species. This day we also had south polar skuas flying around the ship.

 

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We turned south on July 12th toward the mid-Atlantic and started to encounter larger numbers of common dolphins characterized by the hourglass pattern on the sides of their bodies. We have seen pods numbering in the hundreds out here so far, and they have given us great looks when they come in close to the ship.

Of course, the focus of this cruise is to find loggerhead turtles and we did encounter quite a few on July 13th. We spent a few days in the warmer waters off New Jersey working these animals where we also spotted a few leatherback turtles.

On July 16th, we turned to work our way north again and started our day with flat calm waters, the best sighting conditions so far. We saw many common dolphins, including a group of around 500, bottlenose dolphins, and many groups of Risso’s dolphins. The Risso’s are darker when they are younger, and lighten up (and gain some impressive scars) as they age.

In addition to the reptiles, mammals, and seabirds that we tend to see at the surface, there are of course, many fish species in the ocean. We have seen a lot of ocean sunfish along our entire track, a glance at a couple of rays, and also a few shark species including hammerheads, basking sharks, and three whale sharks on July 16th! This was a new species for almost everyone on board, and it took us a second to understand what we were seeing! Whale sharks are the largest fish, reaching lengths of over 40 feet, and feed on zooplankton by filter-feeding. They are characterized by their size, but also by the spots on their dorsal body which helped us identify the species.

Only a few days left out here, but many chances yet to spot additional animals.

Leah Crowe and Lisa Conger
NEFSC Protected Species Branch, aboard the NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow