Safety First!

Note: The NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow is currently at sea working along the Northeast U.S. shelf south of New England on the annual Spring Bottom Trawl Survey.

All images and text by Christine Kircun, NOAA/NEFSC

Safety is an issue that everyone on the ship takes very seriously.  Fire extinguishers, fire stations, emergency escape breathing devices (EEBDs), immersion suits, defibrillators, and personal flotation devices (PFD) can be found all throughout the ship.  Drills are designed by an officer who creates an emergency situation which could be a fire or chemical spill.  The emergency is always in a different area, and sometimes if it’s a fire drill, a smoke machine is used which definitely adds an element of reality!

Drills are practiced once a week, and every single person aboard ship has a job during the drill.  It could be investigating the emergency, directing communications/activities, or mustering to a safe place, to name a few.  Once the alarm for the fire drill is set off, one ten-second tone, everyone immediately stops what they’re doing and heads directly to their assigned muster.  The ship crew split into on-scene, damage control (DC) locker forward, DC locker aft, engine room, and bridge groups.  The on-scene group is first on the site to assess the emergency.  Depending on where, what, and severity of the emergency, people from the DC lockers will assist with any needed equipment or personnel.


Emergency Escape Breathing Devices (EEBDs, orange boxes at left)) and defibrillators (black bag) are part of the ship’s safety equipment.

Meanwhile, the bridge is monitoring the events and guiding the responders.  The crew in the engine room have the ability to control the electric grid to either divert electricity from the hazardous area or make sure there is power for some other necessary task.


When the fire is extinguished and area secured, a fire hose is cleaned out by shooting water over the side.  This tests the pump and keeps the inside of the hose clean.  After the crew remove their gear and clean up the tools, the abandon ship alarm sounds with six short and one long tone.  The crew grabs some Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) and joins the scientific party on the bow.  We practice dressing into our immersion suits to make sure it fits, there are no holes, and there’s a light and whistle attached.  When everyone is finished, the captain announces “secure from drills and heed all further alarms,” and it’s back to regular ship life.


Members of the science party practice dressing into immersion suits, sometimes called Gumby suits, to make sure it fits, there are no holes, and there’s a light and whistle attached.

Occasionally, we’ll practice a man overboard drill which is announced by three long tones.  For this drill, a dummy or some floating object is thrown overboard.  The science crew musters to the flying bridge as lookouts.  Some crew are stationed at the hospital room and others ride out in a Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat (RHIB) to retrieve the “man overboard”.  The cold water makes a fast retrieval paramount for the victim’s survival, so it’s best to avoid falling over!


A Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat, or RHIB, on the Bigelow is used for science and ship operations, including drills for a “man overboard.”

There is a chemical hood onboard for preserving stomach and gonad samples.  Gloves are always worn when filling sample jars, but in case of an accident, there is a spill kit and body/eye wash station nearby.


Chemical hood with safety equipment, including gloves and goggles (left) and the eye wash station (right).

PFDs (personal flotation devices, or life jackets), helmets and man over-board beacons (MOBs) are always worn while working on the back deck.  When wet, the MOB sends a signal to the bridge that someone is in the water.

Man overboard beacons (MOBs)

Safety drills aside, we are also encouraged to be mindful of tripping hazards, heavy weather doors, wet stairs, hot electrical boxes, slippery floor surfaces, dryer lint traps and in general, keeping one hand free to help you move around the ship.  One rogue wave could easily throw you down a staircase!  Ultimately, a successful trip is one where everyone comes back uninjured and alive.

Christine Kircun, biologist
Onboard the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
HB 18-02 Leg 3


Sampling is in Full Swing on the Spring 2018 Bottom Trawl Survey

Post and Photos by Christine Kircun, NOAA/NEFSC

The spring survey has officially begun, and I am on night watch with a great team!  After a couple of nights to adjust to the sleeping schedule, we’re back in the full swing of sampling.

Not all fish are sampled the same.  For some species, such as shortnose greeneye (Chlorophthalmus agassizi), only lengths are taken.  For others, such as bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix), we take length, weight, sex, maturity, stomach contents and otoliths.  The bluefish pictured is a 46.5cm (just over 18 inches long) resting (after spawning) female.


A longfin squid and unidentified squid were found in the stomach (image below).


Since the otoliths (pictured below) for bluefish are very fragile, the heads are frozen so the otoliths can be taken out back at the lab.


This is the most common workup.  There may also be additional requests from researchers inside and outside the lab for fin clips, gonad samples, muscle samples or whole frozen fish for identification, maturity, and stomach workshops.

For this leg, we’ve had some beautiful weather.  On night watch, it’s sometimes easy to forget to go outside, but on those nice days, it’s wonderful to feel the sun and watch the water, hoping to catch a glimpse of a shark, fish, or pod of dolphins.

6 sunrise

Though, it’s not always sunny and calm, and we had a little window of unpleasant weather.  When the waves and wind are too rough to fish, the main job becomes not


Seas are getting rougher and winds are increasing as another storm approaches. 

flying out of your chair when the ship takes a roll, keeping your balance while walking, and trying not to get sick.  If you’ve never been sea sick, count yourself lucky because it is miserable.  But that’s just another part of life on a ship.  Sometimes it’s really tough to be out here, but ultimately, it’s all worth it.  There’s a lot of dedicated and excited scientists, volunteers, officers, deckhands and engineers who are all committed to gathering the best data possible, no matter what.

Christine Kircun
NEFSC Fishery Biology Program, Age and Growth Technician
Aboard the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
HB18-02-Leg 1

Don’t put all your eggs in one gravel bed!

Don’t put all your eggs in one gravel bed!

Men in waders, steel cylinder chutes read for salmon eggs

From left to right, Graham Goulette (NEFSC) deposits eggs into a cone while Jeff Murphy (GARFO) readies another cone for Peter Ruksznis (ME-DMR) who is using the water cannon to disperse sediments from the gravel. Photo credit – NOAA

Each winter from mid-February to early March, biologists from the Maine Department of Marine Resources (ME-DMR), Penobscot Indian Nation (PIN), Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NOAA/NEFSC), Greater Atlantic Region Field Office (NOAA/GARFO), Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (ME-IFW), and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) embark on a collaborative effort to “plant” Atlantic salmon eggs into gravel-bottomed Maine Rivers and streams.  The egg-planting technique has been used in Maine’s salmon rivers for the past decade to help restore and conserve this endangered species. We plant fertilized eggs, collected from adult salmon at a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hatchery, directly into spawning habitat to provide an alternative stocking method.


The method has been successful in producing juvenile salmon, but it does take a certain amount of effort. This year, an initial investigation into ice conditions revealed that at least one site needed to be cleared of ice before planting could occur.


Men chipping choles in ice cover on a stream

Biologists from NOAA, ME-DMR, ME-IFW, NRCS, and PIN work to remove ice from the Pleasant River to gain access for egg planting. Photo credit – NOAA

The day prior to planting, a robust group of handsome biologists from several agencies snowmobiled into the site to chip away ice and expose the gravely stream bottom.

After a few hours, with the hard work completed, we indulged ourselves with a late lunch of hot dogs cooked over a trail-side fire and enjoyed the camaraderie of discussing how great egg-planting would be the next day.


7 men around a campfire in the snow eating lunch

Enjoying a late trailside lunch after chiseling and chopping ice. Photo credit – NOAA


The following day, we met at the Maine Department of Marine Resources office to pick up the gear and eggs left by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We loaded all the gear into the trucks and drove the hour and a half to our parking area near the Pleasant River. We then loaded all the gear onto our snowmobiles. We rode several miles on winding trails to get to our remote site. We had some minor sled issues, but we made it! Once on site, with arms akimbo we surveyed the river, realizing the water was too high for planting. Melting snowpack within the drainage had raised the river level higher than the depth of our planting cones. So we headed to another site further downstream where the water level wasn’t so high.


Men loading gear onto snow mobiles

From left to right, Peter Ruksznis (ME-DMR), Dan McCaw (PIN), and Ben Naumann (NRCS) prepare to haul ice chiseling gear from the snowmobiles down to the Pleasant River. Photo credit – NOAA

Donning snowshoes, we hauled our gear in a pull sled down a steep embankment to the river and out onto the ice. More than one biologist may have fallen during this trek, but none were seriously hurt. Once on site, we got to work assembling the planting gear and preparing for planting.



To plant, one crew member operates a water cannon through an aluminum cone sending a jet of water into the gravely river/stream bottom that blasts fine sediments away to create more space in between individual pieces of gravel for the eggs to occupy. Another crew member deposits 400 to 800 eggs into each cone. After the eggs sink to the bottom – below the surface of the substrate – another crew member slowly pulls the cone up from the gravely river bottom, causing water suction to fill the the spaces with eggs. This method mimics the natural process used by adult Atlantic salmon.


Placing salmon eggs in a large bucket

Jason Valliere (ME-DMR) prepares salmon eggs for planting by removing them from the insulated cooler and placing them into a bucket filled with river water. Photo credit – NOAA

  At one point during the planting we noticed a small predator of Atlantic salmon eggs – a slimy sculpin. With my catlike reflexes, I was able to scoop the little fella up barehanded and relocate him to a place away from the planting. Not on my watch sucker – I mean sculpin!


Depression in the stream bed gravel

“Nest” like depression in the gravel substrate after eggs have been planted and the cone removed. Fine sediments have been forced from the substrate to a depth of 8 – 10 inches creating more space between gravel bits for the eggs. Photo credit – NOAA


Working like a well-oiled machine, we planted about 120,000 eggs in a couple hours! These eggs will hatch within a few weeks and remain in the gravel habitat as sac fry for another few weeks before emerging and feeding. Over the next couple weeks more than one million eggs will be planted in multiple rivers and streams. We hope many will survive the next couple years in the rivers, growing to a length of about 6 to 8 inches, before heading to the ocean to become big, beautiful adult salmon.


Graham Goulette, salmon biologist

Northeast Fisheries Science Center


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.”


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.


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

greenland_2259_ggoulette_ weighs_salmon

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.


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.


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!


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


Restoring a stream — ear plugs required!



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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.