2017 Spring Bottom Trawl Survey

Leg 1: Wintery Weather Tests Your Bones

Anybody who has worked at sea knows that your efforts are limited to what the elements will allow. On Friday, March 10 we experienced that first hand. We hit a bit of a squall off the coast of North Carolina. The conditions changed very quickly. In just a few hours the waves went from 3-4 feet to 12 footers with even larger swells.


Rough seas on Leg I.  Photo by NOAA NEFSC/Kateryn Thompson-Delgado

Kateryn Thompson-Delgado

Fortunately, the Bigelow is equipped to fish in rough conditions so we continued to plug away at stations. Working on a rocking vessel takes a lot of energy. Your body has to use so many more muscles just to walk around, and even if you are just sitting, it can get very uncomfortable. I felt even worse for the night watch, who needed to sleep while Mother Nature attempted to throw them out of their racks.

Just as the day-watch’s shift was ending, the winds started to turn again. With everyone drained, the day watch turned in for the night. When we woke up, we found the seas had calmed down significantly. The waves were back down to 2-3 feet. What a difference 12 hours can make on the ocean! Compared to yesterday, you can barely feel the Bigelow’s rocking and I think everyone is a lot happier for it.


Sunrise and clams seas. Photo by NOAA NEFSC/Kateryn Thompson-Delgado

Dealing with rough seas is the part of the “price of doing business” when collecting data at sea. We plan for it and are prepared. Like one NOAA Corps officer told us during our initial trip briefing, “We call it the Spring Survey but this is the month of March. It’s still winter. We expect to hit some winter weather.” When log books and back packs start to go flying across the room, it’s good to know you’re in the hands of capable people who are well prepared.


Wesley Rand

NEFSC fishery biologist

Aboard the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow


2017 Spring Bottom Trawl Survey

Leg I: Welcome Aboard

We are underway for the 2017 NEFSC Bottom Trawl Survey aboard the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow, a fisheries survey vessel that is specifically designed for the science we do at sea.

At 209-feet long, that might seem like a big ship, but put 38 people on it and it starts to feel small really fast. We’ll work and live together for the 18 days of Leg I, which covers the southern-most part of our region. When all four legs are completed, we’ll have collected biological and physical data at more than 300 stations on the continental shelf off the Northeast US coast, including some in Canadian waters.


Southbound on the NOAA Ship Bigelow out of Newport RI. Photo by NOAA Fisheries NEFSC/Wesley Rand

Three different workforces run our operations. Officers of the NOAA Corps, a uniformed service of the United States, are responsible for managing and navigating the ship. Professional wage mariners make up the rest of permanent ship’s crew: engineers who perform mechanical maintenance, electronic technicians that deploy our ocean sensors, fishermen that deploy our trawl net, and stewards that prepare meals. The scientific party, which I am part of, is put together by the Ecosystem Survey Branch of the NEFSC. We’re responsible for executing the science plan, collecting and processing the data.

When working as a scientist at sea, you spend most of your waking hours with the same people in your watch schedule, in my case seven other fishery biologists. You work, eat, and spend a lot of time waiting to get to your next sampling station, together. The first few days of a trip are kind of like your first day of school. You meet a lot of new people and try to remember everyone’s names. You really only work closely with your work force, but we all rely on each other because every part is crucial to the survey’s success.

Wesley Rand, Fishery biologist

Aboard the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

Little Boat, Big Whales

On March 6, we took advantage of fair weather and calm winds to look for North Atlantic right whales south of Martha’s Vineyard.  By day’s end we’d seen 5, and the New England Aquarium aerial survey team we are working with spotted another 9. Colleagues from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution were also working in the area  were aboard the WHOI R/V Tioga.


Survey crew with cheerful smiles despite freezing air temperatures aboard the R/V Selkie, (left to right) Leah Crowe, Christin Khan, Allison Henry, and Tim Cole of the NEFSC Protected Species Branch. Photo credit NOAA Fisheries NEFSC/Darcie Cole

We’re collecting data important for documenting the distribution, movement, and health of these rare animals.  We also coordinate with the New England Aquarium team that is photographing whales from the air as part of their survey.

We’re focused on gathering several kinds of information: photographs that are used to identify individual animals, and small samples of skin and feces.


R/V Selkie underway (white plume in the water) photographed by the New England Aquarium aerial survey team.  At left, a still camera is pointed out a small window to photograph whales.  Photo credit NOAA Fisheries NEFSC/Ester Quintana, New England Aquarium

Our sightings of 5 whales, along with 9 more spotted by the aerial survey team were the basis for establishing an 1800 mi2 voluntary speed restriction zone (Dynamic Management Area-DMA) that will remain in place for at least 2 weeks.  Our research is being conducted under federal research permit  #17355-01, NMFS/NEFSC.

The R/V Selkie Survey Team

Dispatches: 2017 Maine Fishermen’s Forum

Day 1


American Lobster.  Photo by US Geological Survey/Woods Hole, MA

eMolt Session Shows How Long-term Collaboration Pays off

This afternoon  I had a chance to listen in on Jim Manning’s discussion of eMolt at the forum. A diverse audience of 20+ fishermen, scientists, technologists, and managers attended. The eMOLT program has grown from a small collaboration with lobstermen to a wide array of collaborative projects with various industry sectors, educational programs, and scientists. Jim provided an overview of the various projects and asked collaborators to discuss their perspectives. The value of collaborative research and data collection was discussed at length and numerous ideas were developed for improvements to current projects and new projects that would be worth pursuing.

Jon Hare

NEFSC Science and Research Director


Emolt bottom temperature data site showing readings for the last 72 hours.  Each pin is a different vessel.


NEFSC Northeast Fisheries Observer Program has arrived. Table T-229, Bayport Ballroom, Samoset Inn.  Stop by from 9AM-5PM!  Photo by NOAA Fisheries/ NEFSC

 Day 2


Standing room only at this afternoon’s NOAA Fisheries Leadership Forum. Photo by NOAA Fisheries NEFSC/Stewart Des Meules


NOAA Fisheries leadership panelists (left to right) Jon Hare, NEFSC director; John Bullard, GAR regional administrator; Sam Rauch, Acting NOAA Fisheries director. Photo by NOAA Fisheries NEFSC/Stewart Des Meules


Day 3


NEFSC director Jon Hare (left) and NEFSC research fishery biologist John Manderson take questions from a crowd at the State of the Ecosystem Panel discussion. Photo by NOAA Fisheries/NEFSC Stewart Des Mueles


“The Food Guys,” Chef Jim LeVerso (left) and Mike Young, present their annual seminar on soups, stews, and chowders called “What’s in the Bowl?”  Their recipes from years of Maine Fishermen’s Forum seminars have been collected into a 15th anniversary cookbook.  Photo by NOAA Fisheries NEFSC/Stewart Des Mueles


Right Whales Sound Off

On Tuesday this week, I got a chance to go out with a crew from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution aboard their research vessel (R/V)  TiogaWe searched for North Atlantic right whales, towed for plankton, and deployed both a slocum glider and an underwater microphone called a hydrophone.  Just last week a crew from the center spotted more than a dozen whales in the same area we worked in, where there is also a  moored listening station that captures the sounds made by several species of large whales when they are present. WHOI, our center,  and the US Coast Guard are collaborating on the project.


DMON buoy near Martha’s Vineyard that detects the presence of whales in the area by recording their calls.  Photo by NOAA Fisheries NEFSC/Christin Khan

The moored digital acoustic monitoring –DMON for short– buoy includes a real-time detection system and hydrophones that listen for and record the vocalizations, or “calls”of four kinds of baleen whales: sei, finback, humpback, and the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale. The hydrophones record around the clock. Snippets of the recordings are sent back to shore every two hours.  Eventually all the data are retrieved and then analyzed by experts who can identify which species of whale made the sounds..


A hydrophone array is prepared for deployment by WHOI scientists abroad the R/V Tioga. Photo by NOAA Fisheries NEFSC/Christin Khan


WHOI crew with slocum glider on the back deck of the R/V Tioga. Photo by NOAA Fisheries NEFSC/Christin Khan

We also deployed a WHOI slocum glider, an underwater robot that can also detect and record whale calls.  The recordings are  transmitted by satellite phone to a computer onshore that also helps navigate the glider from point to point.   The glider powers its way up and down in the water for two to three weeks on a set of alkaline batteries.

These projects are examples of how NOAA scientists are collaborating with biologists and engineers to increase our understanding of the marine environment using state of the art technology.  Although we didn’t find any right whales, it was a beautiful day on the water and I enjoyed learning about research underway by WHOI scientists.

Christin Khan

NEFSC whale biologist

A break in the weather, and success

It is Tuesday night (Feb. 21) and the NOAA vessel Henry Bigelow is leaving Georges Bank and working into the western Gulf of Maine area for the last part of the Winter Ecosystem Monitoring Survey (EcoMon).


Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) cruise track in blue, with black line showing remaining course to be covered.  Image provided by Stefanie Stabile, OMAO/NOAA.

Although dogged by rugged weather from the day before sailing, the ship has managed to complete over a hundred stations so far, from Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Maine, and will have a grand total of about 114 stations prior to the time we dock in Newport, RI on Thursday morning (Feb 23).

Rosette Deployment rd.jpg

Todd Wilson and Frank Forbell deploy the rosette water sampler from the Henry Bigelow on a windy day.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA.

Sea Lamprey rd.jpg

Sometimes something unexpected is caught by the water sampler: a 15 cm sea lamprey attached itself to the CTD unit on the array!  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA.


Emily Peacock in the instrument-packed dry lab of the Henry Bigelow explains operation of the cylindrical ImagingFlowCytoBot unit, seen in the middle of the photo, to EPA volunteer Joe Bishop.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA.

The weather has given us a break at a key juncture in the cruise, as we were heading out to Georges Bank, which is a notoriously unforgiving area during this time of the year.  That break in the weather, combined with an exceptional effort on the part of the crew and command of this vessel, has helped turn this trip into a resounding success, despite the fact that a blizzard delayed the arrival of our science team and caused us to sail a day late.


Diatom images recorded from seawater pumped through the Imaging FlowCytoBot unit.  Image provided by Joe Bishop, EPA.

Survey Tech Stefanie Stabile washing down small bongo sampler to collect plankton samples on one of the calmer sunrises of the survey.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA.


Survey Tech Stefanie Stabile washing down the small bongo sampler used to collect plankton samples on one of the calmer sunrises of the survey.  Photo by Jerry Prezioso, NEFSC/NOAA.

I’d like to thank the key parties involved in contributing to this success: the CO and command on the vessel were constantly coming up with suggestions and cruise track “tweaks” to help us cover the survey area as quickly as possible despite the conditions.  The crew, who were always at the ready to get the gear deployed “efficiently and safely” to quote our chief boatswain, plus the engineers and electronics specialist who kept the ship running and sampling flawlessly (no downtime on this trip!) and the stewards who not only kept us fed, but kept up morale with ice cream socials on Sunday nights!  Finally the science team, a diverse group with researchers from the Canadian Wildlife Service, UNH, EPA, the NEFSC, plus support from WHOI and the onboard Survey Techs who worked alongside us to collect hundreds of plankton samples and associated data.

Thank you all.  It was truly a pleasure to sail with you!

Jerry Prezioso
Chief Scientist
HB 1701  Winter Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Gulls and Gannets

More news from  Chief Scientist Jerry Prezioso aboard the Bigelow on the HB1701 Winter Ecosystem Monitoring Survey (EcoMon):

Our Canadian Wildlife Service Seabird and marine mammal observer, Holly Hogan, has been steadily working through all these conditions, and has provided a brief summary of what she’s seen so far.  Here is her update:

“Here’s a little flavour of what’s been going on at the surface!

Northern Gannets have been seen on all days of the cruise so far.  As far as gulls go, there have been the usual suspects, seen regularly: Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull.

Holly Hogan at her observation post on the bridge of the Henry Bigelow.  She records her observations with a voice recorder and laptop. Photo by Jerry Prezioso,  NEFSC/NOAA Fisheries

On the day we left port at Newport (February 11), there were Northern Gannets, and some of the alcids that you expect in the northern parts of the cruise: Common Murre and Atlantic Puffin.
On Feb. 12, Northern Gannets were common all day. When we were closer to shore there were Common Loons and even a Black Scoter, a seaduck normally associated with coastal waters.  Common Murres were seen again as well.
Feb. 13 was a stormy day.  Sightings on the surface would be difficult; you always miss things in these conditions.  However, there were many Northern Gannets seen, especially near the shelf edge.  There was also a Red-throated Loon seen, which is smaller and more delicate than Common Loons.
On Feb.14 there were Northern Gannets and some of the alcids as well: Two Dovekies (a tiny seabird that breeds in the high arctic) and Atlantic Puffin. Common Dolphins were also seen in small groups.
On February 15, the water was calm for the whole day – excellent observing conditions. Northern Gannets were by far the most common species seen. Common Loons were also seen regularly.  The shipping lanes to New York City were pretty quiet for seabirds.  There was one alcid species seen: One lone razorbill.  It may not have been well, as it did not try to fly or dive from the ship, the normal behavior when the ship is in close range.  There were also excellent whale sightings:  A total of three fin whales, one humpback and one minke were observed.
So far today it’s been gull and gannets.  Lots of day ahead though!”
Holly Hogan
Canadian Wildlife Service