Inside the Wet Lab

Conveyor belts, stainless steel, rushing water, plastic bucket thumps, computer bleeps, bells and dings, red and green  lights, fish, fish and more fish.  These are some of the sights and sounds in the Bigelow Wet Lab.  Appropriately named  “Wet Lab”, a constant water wash streams across the floor to flush debris and slime out the scuppers.  This floating laboratory is the frontline for fish science.  Usual and not so usual species enter the lab from the net to be processed.

Will Duffy studies a spinycheek scorpionfish

Bill Duffy with a spinycheek scorpionfish, one of the more unusual species, to be sampled.  (Photo by Dave Chevrier, NOAA)

As the conveyor belt moves the species into the lab the most interesting location is in the first position.  This is the place where you see every species before it is sorted into the baskets, buckets and pails.  The colors of blue, turquoise, lime green, yellow, coral, and purple are brilliantly displayed under the bright fluorescent lights.  After the sort, the watch chief enters the species into the FSCS 2 program using the Latin scientific name for identification.  The barcodes on each basket, bucket or pail are scanned to uniquely identify the container and then they are weighed and sent down the line for processing at the three sampling locations.

Jakub Kircun places  an angel shark on the electronic measuring board at one of the sampling stations.  (Photo by Dave Chevrier, NOAA)

At each sampling location there are an abundance of tools to assist the cutter and recorder.  Barcode readers are used to scan a container, so that the recorder can confirm the species.  The container is dumped into a hopper and the sampling protocol begins.  Individual species are first placed on an electronic measuring board which sends lengths and weights to the computer.  For smaller species, a different scale is available to send the weight also.  Knives, tweezers, and scissors are the cutters’ surgical instruments to extract samples such as otoliths (fish earbones, used to determine age and growth), determine the sex of the species and examine stomach prey contents.  The computers prompt for each required data component and record the responses.  Tissue samples such as spines, scales, ovaries and whole fish are either frozen of put into jars with preservative chemicals.

After the survey, the data and samples return to the on-shore laboratory in Woods Hole where the analysis begins…

Heidi Marotta
Aboard the Henry B. Bigelow

Sampling along the Shelf Edge

It is Wednesday at around noon, day 3 of the second leg of the fall groundfish survey aboard the Henry B. Bigelow.  Since the start of this leg, we’ve been working along the shelf edge, completing some deeper water stations while the weather is good.  Earlier today we crossed Hudson Canyon, about 90 miles southeast of New York City (NYC). The water out here is light blue due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. We have seen several pods of dolphins today and the presence of sport fishing boats tells us that there must be tuna around as well.

We are just arriving at our next sampling station. We are in 72m (roughly 225 feet) of water, a little more than 80 miles southeast of NYC.  The noon to midnight watch has just had lunch (or breakfast) and are getting ready to work up their first tow of the day. For the midnight to noon watch, it’s time for bed. For those who are not familiar with our general operations out here, it goes something like this: we get to a station and deploy a CTD to get data on the temperature, depth, and salinity of the water column. On selected stations we also deploy a bongo net to obtain plankton samples. Next, we deploy our trawl for 20 minutes. Once the trawl is back on deck, the catch is moved into our fish processing lab on a conveyor belt, where it is sorted by species and weighed.

Heith Cook in  fish processing lab

Heath Cook (left), Noon to Midnight Watch Chief, overseeing the fish sorting process. (Photo credit: Heidi Marotta)

Individual species are then further sampled for length, and depending on the protocol for the particular species, examined for sex and maturity stage, food habits (i.e. stomach content analysis), and age structure removal. Over the past 2 days we have completed 17 of these stations, and we have a whole lot more to do.

Heidi Marotta, a database expert from the NEFSC, is out here with us on this trip as our FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System) administrator. FSCS is the system we use to electronically enter all of the data from each tow. We have a new version of FSCS out here this fall that is helping to maximize our efficiency when processing the catch. This is Heidi’s first groundfish survey. She is going to be helping me out with this blog in the coming days.

Pete Chase
Chief Scientist
FBTS Leg 2