Northwest Fisheries Science Center

The Main Deck

Acoustic and trawl adventures in the Northeast Pacific

Blog Entries for February 2016

End of 2016 Winter Hake Survey

By Sandy Parker-Stetter
February 9, 2016

Leg 2 scientists on the bow of the Bell M. Shimada.  Photo credit NWFSC-FRAM-FEAT

It’s hard to believe, but the 2016 Winter Hake Survey is coming to an end. 

Wet lab crew with a King-of-the-salmon (Trachipterus altivelis).  Photo credit Sandy Parker-Stetter (NWFSC)

We’ve finished 30 days at sea aboard the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada.  We collected 5,300 nautical miles of acoustic data between 31.4pN and 45.6pN, completed 32 midwater trawls, did 75 CTD casts, performed 25 zooplankton vertical net casts, did over 2,000 minutes of observations for marine birds and mammals, collected >100 deep-water fish specimens for the University of Washington’s Fish Collection, collected >3,000 samples for HABs all along the coast, and adapted the survey 10 times – and still found time to play cornhole, enjoy some sun on the flying bridge, and watch the Super Bowl!  Phew. 

Numbers aside, the survey would not have met (and exceeded) our objectives had it not been for the skilled crew of the Shimada and the top-notch science parties from legs 1 and 2.  The Shimada crew was right there with us, asking questions about the design and wanting to know whether the hake we caught were spawning or not.  On the science side, I am grateful to have sailed with such a talented, motivated, and invested group of scientists.  We really do have the coolest jobs.  You each provided a perspective, and enriched mine, on what hake do in the winter when they think no one is looking (but we were looking, weren’t we?).  Each of you was critical to the success of the survey.  Thank you, everyone.

The Shimada cornhole tournament.  Photo credit Allen Shimada (NOAA-OST)

I also wanted to express my gratitude to the on-land support teams that allowed us to be offshore doing our science-thing.  You kept the fires burning, shielded us from daily life when you could, fixed our problems from shore, asked questions that kept us on our toes, and made sure that blog posts always made it up.  You were essential personnel in this effort.  Many thanks.

So what’s next?  Although the at-sea part of the survey is done, the bulk of our work is still ahead of us back in the office.  The NWFSC-FRAM Fisheries Engineering and Acoustic Technologies (FEAT) team will quality check the data (acoustic, trawl, biological, and oceanographic) and get it ready for use.  The checking and processing parts can be long and tedious, but are essential.  Once all the checks have been completed, we’ll plot, map, and summarize the data to do a further check of quality and take a look at it from various perspectives – for a first time survey that collected so much information, everyone is excited for this step!  We came into the survey with hypotheses about where we’d find hake, and whether those areas were predictable.  Once the data are checked and processed, we can do the analyses to test our ideas and compare our data with other data sets.  Inevitably, we’ll come up with even more questions and brainstorm ways to answer those questions in the future. 

After a great trip, it’s time to head for the pier!

Sunny day on the flying bridge.  Photo credit Sandy Parker-Stetter (NWFSC)

Tagged: Winter hake survey

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...and we're also looking for Harmful Algal Blooms

By Anthony Odell and Sandy Parker-Stetter
February 7, 2016

Sandy: Although the Winter Survey has been very hake-centric, we’re also collecting oceanographic data, observations of marine birds and mammals, and have a team riding along to look for Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). The critters are known for shutting down fisheries due to toxins. Anthony Odell has been with us for both legs 1 and 2 – let’s hear from him on why he’s so interested in HABs and cool things that he has seen so far.

Anthony: I work for the University of Washington’s Olympic Natural Resources Center in Forks, WA. I am based out Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen, WA where I coordinate the coastal harmful algal bloom monitoring effort, a.k.a. ORHAB (Olympic Region Harmful Algal Bloom) monitoring program. The NWFSC-FRAM-FEAT folks have graciously allowed us to piggy back on their Winter Hake Survey and are fortuitously covering the very same waters aboard the Bell M. Shimada that we are interested for monitoring HABs off the West Coast. 

After the unprecedented toxic algae bloom in 2015, we wanted to look offshore to nearshore to see if the bloom had persisted or showed any signs of an early bloom for 2016, especially under the influence of the warmer waters generally associated with the potentially very strong El Niño we are expecting. Now that we have completed a majority of the sampling, it appears that, although phytoplankton abundance and diversity is typically seasonally low, there are still several locations where HAB species are existing and even doing well. I think more notable than the HAB observations, are the regular occurrences of phytoplankton species whose distributions are often considered tropical or warm temperate we have found off of northern CA to central OR in the middle of January. This may very well be indicative of El Niño’s influence. I have spent a good amount of time in my taxonomy books working to ID several species I am not familiar with seeing off our coast even in summer.

Ornithocerus magnificus, a dinoflagellate generally found in warm temperate to tropical water found on Heceta Banks off of the central Oregon coast on January 16th, 2016. Photo credit Anthony Odell (UW)

The cruise otherwise has been an excellent adventure and enriching experience as well. We have had quite a bit of rough weather at times, as well as smooth sailing with amazing views at sea and near shore. We’ve also had many encounters with marine mammals I don’t think I will soon forget. I have had a chance to meet and work with other scientists from different fields of oceanography and marine biology learning much along the way, as well as make friends with the quite exceptional crew of the ship. The meals are second to none, with gourmet meals every day, and we all feel quite pampered by the galley staff. I hope to see everyone again on the next hake cruise this summer!

Tagged: Winter hake survey

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Highlights from leg 2

By Sandy Parker-Stetter and leg 2 scientists
February 7, 2016

I again asked each of the scientists to provide a highlight, something funny, or something that was interesting to them scientifically.  Just as the leg 2 scientists are a very diverse a group in terms of experience, our answers are just as diverse!

Allen:  "Two days and a wake-up," and time to readjust to daily life on land.  Sorry to be leaving, hope to be back.  This winter hake survey may have enough legs/fins to become an annual thing.  Males outnumber female hake, it would be great to see the flip-side of this and figure things out.

Anthony:  1.) Probably spending more time in my taxonomy books looking for phytoplankton species that are unknown to me than when I first got into phytoplankton taxonomy 17 years ago. 2.) The smooth sailing we have had compared to the bumpy first leg.  I am sleeping like a baby and the work is much easier.  And 3.) The fact the already amazing food onboard has gotten even better(?)!!! I didn’t think it was possible, but Cliff and Randy are gourmet chefs and have kicked it into overdrive.  Meals have become the highlight of my day!  I am very thankful for all of the above.

Ben:   Highlights of leg two have to be the California sunrises and the stack of recipes that I put together for when I get home.

Carlos:  There are a lot of memorable moments in the winter survey but I definitely have two favorites.  First, when the Acoustics Team shared with me their knowledge and experience, I am amazed by the way that they can detect the aggregations of hake and how clean the trawls are.  Second, was to advance all the way to the cornhole championship with my teammate “The Hood.”  Let’s go team!!  I would like to thank all crew and scientists for showing me such a good example of well-coordinated teamwork!

Doug:  I really enjoyed working with a diverse group of people, while sharing knowledge and experiences, to achieve a common goal.  Playing cornhole in the sun up on the flying bridge was definitely a highlight, and winning some games was fun too!  Lastly, the food was great; thanks Cliff and Randy!

Jenni:  I really enjoyed getting to steam so close to the Channel Islands and observing all the wildlife around them, dolphins, whales and different birds.

Lucy the Lucky:  I liked getting into trouble when Rebecca wasn’t around.

Michael:  As someone who is well aware of the difficulties of recruiting, training and retaining good people to operate NOAA vessels, I am very pleased to see and work with the quality crew we have aboard Shimada right now.

Rebecca:  Before the survey, we spent a lot of time on historic data analysis and speculation on where we might or might not find hake.  It is so exciting for me to get out here, actually find hake aggregations, and learn more that we just didn't know about what hake do and where they go in the winter.   Love it!  Oh yeah, and not having to cook or do dishes :-)

Sandy:  My biological highlight wasn’t something we saw, but what we didn’t – based on historical observations, we thought that we’d find high numbers of hake in Southern California, but did not.  Personal highlight was watching science party, from all different backgrounds, come together so quickly and make it look so very easy.  You guys rock.

Tom:  Counting all the hake even though it was unnecessary.   Working up samples while the most of the West Coast sleeps.  Quickly weighing molas so we can get them back in the water (for you Vanessa, swim little buddies!).  Watching video taken from the camera in the cod end, seeing things zip by, and trying to identify them.  Working with the best night shift ever, thanks Carlos and Jenni.

Carlos and an ocean sunfish (Mola mola).  Photo credit Tom Holland (NWFSC)
Stern of the Bell M. Shimada with California in the distance.  Photo credit Sandy Parker-Stetter (NWFSC)

Tagged: Winter hake survey

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Dampening the roll

By Ensign Phil Manougian
February 7, 2016

Since Bell M. Shimada has so many interesting and unique features built into its design, it’s only fair I share another one with everyone.  Shimada has a special stabilization system that dampens heavy and medium rolls when in rough seas, which is something we encounter at least once a trip.  Operating in the North Pacific Ocean gives us a high likelihood of having to deal with swells causing the ship to roll - sometimes up to 30 degrees – and dislodge items to fall off of things, into other things, and under more things.  Goodness gracious it’s important to be secure for sea!

The anti-roll tank on Shimada is located just forward of the bridge, and one deck below.  The tank, which is filled with fresh water, runs the full breadth (or width) of the ship and is fitted with two internal partitions called baffles.  The baffles have large holes cut out that allow water to pass between the different compartments, but the holes limit how quickly the water can flow from side to side. 

Liquids flowing around in a tank unimpeded create something called the Free-Surface Effect, which can be dangerous if not accounted for in large tanks of fuel or water as it can cause the ship to list more severely than expected.  In this case, when the water flowing from side to side in the anti-roll tank hits the baffles, it is forced to slow down and pile up as it passes through the holes.  The motion of the water inside the tank is thus delayed compared to the roll of the ship.  By controlling how much water is put into the anti-roll tank, the CO can manipulate the roll period so that as the water is piled up on the starboard side, the ship is already rolling to port.  This opposite loading of the tank helps to dampen the overall motion of the ship.  Below is a diagram of the water in the tank and the outside of the ship, for reference.

Source:  Flume Stabilization System and Liquid Level Indicating System Model LLIS-9227-1T

One fun little fact about this tank - it’s just forward of three staterooms on the 02 deck.  The occupants can hear the water in the tank rushing from side to side and hitting the tank walls with a thunderous SPLASH! during rough seas.  Some of the crew find it relaxing, while others… not so much.

Tagged: Winter hake survey

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E is for Echogram

By Rebecca Thomas
February 6, 2016

Image credit NWFSC-FRAM-FEAT (and Pacific hake)

During the winter survey, we have talked about “echograms” - what are they and what do they show us?  Well, you can’t see very far in even the clearest water, but sound can travel both far and quickly.  This is why sound is great for exploring the ocean, and one reason why so many marine mammals use echolocation. 

An echogram is the image of the ocean we make using an echosounder.  An echosounder is at its heart a high-tech fish-finder.  Like a radar system, it lets us see objects that are farther away than we can see with our eyes.  The echosounder transmits a “ping” of sound which travels down through the water.  The sound energy in a ping may bounce off of a fish, squid, or some other crazy creature, and then eventually hit the ocean bottom and bounce back.  We use how long it takes for the sound to bounce back to our equipment to calculate how far below the creatures and bottom are from the surface of the water.  For instance, in the picture you can see how it would take longer for the sound to get down to the bottom of the ocean (and bounce back) than it would to take to get to the fish (and back).  Each vertical line in an echogram comes from a single ping as the ship travels forward through the water.  As the ship moves, we build up enough of these pings to form an echogram image of what’s below us (sometimes the letter “E”) in the water column.  Because we have been over such deep water during the winter survey, we collect a ping of information from the echosounders on the Bell M. Shimada every 1-3 seconds.

We use echograms to help us find, identify, and estimate fish numbers, as well as to learn how deep the ocean bottom is below us.

Image credit Rebecca Thomas (NWFSC)

Tagged: Winter hake survey

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Why hake?

By Tom Holland and Sandy Parker-Stetter
February 5, 2016

After following the posts, you may be asking yourself (as the father of one of the crew members did), “Why do we care so much about hake?”  Pacific hake, or Pacific whiting, is an important, and valuable, commercial fish in both U.S. and Canadian waters.  It’s also an important fish in the ecology of the California Current Ecosystem.  Hake are caught by fishing vessels using large pelagic nets that are trawled up in the water and do not touch the bottom.  We are using a pelagic net (also referred to as a “midwater trawl”) for the winter hake survey.  The hake fishery is a very clean fishery and typical hauls contain 99% hake and 1% other species or bycatch.  Hake has many uses after it is caught - all parts of the hake are used and very little is wasted.  Even on this survey we are saving heads for research into turning them into feed for other animals!  Common products from the hake fishery include hake fillets, surimi, mince, fish meal, and fish oil.  Hake is a white fish that produces fillets similar to Alaskan pollock and cod, only smaller.  It can be breaded and fried.  Surimi is otherwise known as imitation crab and is used in sushi or other products. Mince is used to make pressed fish cakes and fish sticks.  You can also buy hake fish oil caplets as a supplement.  You’ve probably eaten hake without knowing it! 

Pacific hake going into the midwater trawl. Video credit NWFSC/FRAM/FEAT

Tagged: Winter hake survey

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Meet the day crew

By Sandy Parker-Stetter, Doug Draper, Allen Shimada, and Michael Gallagher
February 3, 2016

You’ve met the night crew, but what about the scientists who are staffing the wet lab during the day?  Over to you, Doug, Allen, and Mike!

Doug setting up the SBE.  Photo credit Rebecca Thomas (NWFSC)

Doug:  I’m a member of the NWFSC’s groundfish bottom trawl survey team, which annually charters commercial fishing vessels to collect independent fisheries data on the diversity of species found. Sometimes I like a break from counting our fish and participate in the hake survey to help count their fish, which is why I’m on the Bell M. Shimada right now with the Acoustic team’s first Winter Hake Survey to see what these fish are up to when it comes time to spawn.  I enjoy volunteering for the FEAT team because I get to see a different side of our organization and collaborate with some great people. It’s definitely a more relaxed pace than our bottom trawl survey, being mainly focused on just a single species.  I especially like the video of the trawls; you can really see some cool stuff!  And to top it off, Sandy and I just won our first cornhole game up on the flying bridge!

Allen on deck.  Photo credit Sandy Parker-Stetter (NWFSC)

Allen:  My day job is back at NOAA Fisheries headquarters in Silver Spring, MD where I have supported fishery-independent surveys and the development of fish stock assessment programs since the 1990’s. I’ve also contributed to the mission justification, budget appropriation, and acquisition of our current fleet of five Oscar Dyson-class fishery survey vessels to meet the at-sea data requirements of our six regional fisheries science centers.   So it’s a thrill to sail on this first ever winter hake survey, to be part of a great team of crew, officers and scientists.  After many years of going to sea I am especially grateful to be assigned the day shift and the lower bunk. 

Mike in the wet lab. Photo credit Sandy Parker-Stetter (NWFSC)

Michael:  I work for NMFS headquarters with the title “research platform coordinator.”  In addition to working to make sure the NOAA fleet of ships and aircraft is responsive to the needs of NMFS scientists, I also work on coordinating vessel and aircraft charters and NMFS’ nascent efforts with unmanned aircraft.  I sail on various fisheries missions because to do my job well, I need to stay apprised of the capabilities of fleet and charter assets, as well as how NMFS scientists use them.  I need to be aware of any shortcomings in the platforms available to our scientists and be able to communicate the same with NMFS, OMAO and industry people who can possibly address the shortcomings.  Right now is a particularly exciting time for me to document how we use platforms as I anticipate we will embark on a ship replacement program in the near future.

Tagged: Winter hake survey

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Secret Messages?

By Sandy Parker-Stetter
February 2, 2016

Fish can appear in all kinds of crazy patterns on our echosounders. They can be big, round schools that disappear quickly from view, or they can be thin little layers that go on for miles. But, during the winter survey we’ve gotten the sense that our Pacific hake are trying to tell us something. The other morning, this showed up:

Image credit NWFSC/FRAM/FEAT and Pacific hake

What does “E” mean? 

A few hours later, we saw this:

Image credit NWFSC/FRAM/FEAT and Pacific hake

A couple of people saw “I M,” but a few (who had been up all night) saw “H M.”

Ok, so we have an “E” and an “M” plus either an “I” or an “H” – what are the hake trying to say?  Maybe it was to help us with identifying them and it was part of the phrase “I’M HAKE”?  Or, maybe we’ve just been watching the acoustics at sea too long…

Tagged: Winter hake survey

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Meet the night crew

By Sandy Parker-Stetter, Tom Holland, Carlos Godínez-Pérez, and Jenni Hood
February 1, 2016

We’ve got another great, and diverse, group of scientists sailing with us on leg 2.  I asked each of the members of the night crew to tell us about themselves.

Our night crew in the wet lab.  Photo credit Sandy Parker-Stetter (NWFSC)

Tom:  I work at the NWFSC where I am a member of the At-Sea Hake Observer Program.  This is my first experience on a NOAA “White Boat.”  I have other scientific survey cruises on chartered commercial fishing vessels.  One of my first impressions of being on a NOAA vessel is the fact that it is dedicated to doing the science of the survey.  There is no pressure to catch as much fish as possible.  Being able to go at “science speed,” as opposed to “full bore factory speed” allows me to be sure of my species identifications.  In other words, I have the time to be a splitter instead of a lumper.   It also allows for the complete work up of the target species, Pacific Hake.  Since this is the initial Winter Hake Survey, all future data will be compared to this one.  It is better to do the most thorough and complete job possible.  That’s the Night Shift Motto!  Hi Jen!

Carlos:  I am currently working towards my Master’s Degree at Centro Interdisciplinario en Ciencias Marinas in La Paz, Mexico.  I use acoustics to study the hake populations in the northern Gulf of California.  Although the hake haven’t been showing up much during the night shift (perhaps they are afraid of us) it has been a pleasure to spend time with a professional team from different areas of expertise.  Every moment on the ship (whether fishing or not) you can learn something new.  When the Chief Scientist locates an aggregation of hake, I find myself wondering if the net will be full of juveniles, adults or a mix of both.  I get excited to see which other organisms we will find in the catch.  It is interesting to examine what the hake have eaten during their different stages of spawning and it is satisfying to have these questions answered at the end of the haul.

Jenni:  I work for the Groundfish Observer program.  Although I mostly work in Alaska, I also participate in the At-Sea Hake Observer Program off the West Coast when I am given the opportunity.  I volunteered for this position to experience life on a NOAA research vessel and I am excited to be part of this “first of its kind” study.  Coming from a job where working solo is the norm, it has been refreshing getting to work with a whole team of scientists with different areas of expertise.  So far I have enjoyed absorbing information from the acoustics lab team along with viewing the little critters collected from the vertical net tows we perform for zooplankton studies.  Although the work has been relatively straightforward so far, there has been some difficulty in refusing the temptations of the 3 am ice cream break.

Squad of squid captured during a tow. Video credit NWFSC/FEAT

Tagged: Winter hake survey

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