Northwest Fisheries Science Center

2017 West Coast Groundfish Bottom Trawl Survey

This portal tracks the 2017 groundfish survey conducted on chartered West Coast fishing vessels by the Fisheries Research Survey (FRS) Team from NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center. During the first half of the survey (May - July) we will conduct sampling from onboard the F/V Excalibur and the F/V Last Straw. The vessels are relatively small (65 - 76 ft in length) and usually host three scientists: a chief scientist from FRS and two back deck biologists. Many of the back deck biologists are volunteers without whose assistance we could not conduct the survey. The vessel personnel includes the Captain, two crewmembers and sometimes a night watch person. Follow us as we use trawling and oceanographic sampling to learn about the California Current ecosystem and the health of many West Coast fish populations. The survey traverses the entire area from U.S.-Canada to U.S.-Mexico at depths from 55 m to 1280 m twice during the sampling season (May - October). The survey is the primary source of fisheries independent information used in the management of 40+ groundfish along the U.S. West Coast. Although communications are often spotty while the team is at sea, chief scientists will post updates during periodic port calls as the vessels sample throughout the survey season.

Excalibur Haul Out Mob
test 3
Galley Table Mob
test 2
Sunrise on the Excalibur

Third Leg of the First Pass of the 2017 Bottom Trawl Survey

By Keith Bosley
July 6, 2017


calendar date June 14-23

Leg 3 of the 2017 West Coast Groundfish Bottom Trawl Survey, first pass, started with the F/Vs Excalibur and Last Straw departing from Brookings Harbor, OR on the night of June 14th and ended nine days later when the boats arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, CA, on June 23rd. The scientific party for this leg included one unpaid volunteer on each of the boats, Sophie Wulfing on the F/V Last Straw and Amber Reichert on the F/V Excalibur. More will be said about the two of them later, but one of many untold stories about the trawl survey is the critical role that volunteers have played in the success of the survey over the past 20 years.

 When the survey started in 1998 the science crew consisted of only two people, a chief scientist plus one deck biologist. While the amount of data collected back then pales in comparison to the amount collected now, we realized right away that a third scientist would be necessary in order for the survey to succeed. In its current form the survey requires 564 “people days” at sea to be fully staffed (47 days at sea * 3 scientists * 4 boats) each year. Survey team members fill many of these spots while some are filled by co-workers from other teams in the FRAM Division or occasionally by someone from one of the other Divisions at the NWFSC. But over the years the survey has leaned heavily on volunteers from outside of the Center to fill many holes in the schedule.

Some volunteers are compensated for their time on the survey by their employer if the experience is beneficial to their job. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, for example, has sent all of their port samplers out for a survey leg at one time or another and some have gone out more than once. Other volunteers do a leg of the survey, and all of the hard work that it entails, for no compensation. Unpaid volunteers are usually students, mostly graduate students but also the occasional undergrad. Sometimes a student volunteers for a leg in order to collect specimens that are a focus of their research or so they can get hands-on experience collecting survey data that will be used in a thesis or dissertation. Others sign up to see if a career in fisheries science may be something worth pursuing. Regardless of their reasons for going to sea, the tremendous success of the survey over the last 20 years would not be possible without the help of our volunteers.

This brings us back to leg 3. Moss Landing Marine Labs, CA (MLML) has been our most reliable source of volunteers over the years and we typically have anywhere from 1 - 4 MLML students on the schedule in a given year. Amber Reichert, our leg 3 volunteer, is one of 3 MLML students on the 2017 survey schedule and she’s signed up for another leg in the Fall. We asked her for a brief explanation of her background, what she’s working on and why she volunteered for 2 survey legs this year:

“I grew up in the East Bay area and often thought about pursuing an education in marine biology. After receiving a B.S. in Marine Science and Biology in 2013 from CSU Monterey Bay I enrolled in a Master’s program at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories as a member of the Pacific Shark Research Center under the advisement of Dr. David Ebert. For my Master's thesis, I am analyzing the habitat associations and spatial distributions of the brown (Apristurus brunneus), longnose (A. kampae), and filetail (Parmaturus xaniurus) catsharks in the Eastern North Pacific, using fishery-independent data.”

“Utilizing FRAM survey data I plan to identify areas of differential importance (geographic regions and depth), and to identify if spatial segregation is occurring within and among catshark species and by size, sex, and maturity (length/weight relationship). Habitat associations will be quantified and assessed using ROV and AUV data from MBARI and the SWFSC. My research is important because the relationship between sharks and their environment is critical for identification of essential habitats for the conservation and management of shark populations.”

Our other leg 3 volunteer, Sophie Wulfing, will be a junior this Fall at Colorado College (Colorado Springs, CO), majoring in Organismal Biology and Ecology with a Mathematical Biology minor. Originally from Maple Valley, WA, Sophie came to the NWFSC through a summer internship with the National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS). She is working on a project with NWFSC survey biologist Melissa Head to analyze reproductive development for multiple rockfish species (Sebastes spp.) to try to improve existing population models.  Of her time on the survey, she writes:

“I had a wonderful time out at sea on the West Coast Groundfish Bottom Trawl Survey aboard the F/V Last Straw. I was initially concerned about the intensity of the workload and whether I would get along with the rest of the crew. These worries could not have been more misplaced, as I found that the job was demanding but also extremely satisfying at the same time. I learned a lot about the intricacies of the fishing industry as well as the process of scientific data collection. Moreover, I worked at sea with extremely kind, welcoming and fun-loving individuals with a great sense of humor. I even got somewhat of an education in exploring different types of seafood. I can now say that I am a fan of both prawns and oysters, neither of which I had ever previously eaten. In addition, I found that I had a knack for life at sea because I did not get seasick, despite some days that were “nautical” (gusts ~45 knots and 15 ft. + swells), which caused us to go into Bodega Bay (CA) for a brief weather delay. I also did not struggle with fish identification or biological extractions (i.e. otoliths, ovaries, stomach, etc.), so maybe a career in fisheries is a good fit for me.”

To Amber, Sophie, and all of our other volunteers this year and over the past 20 years of the bottom trawl survey, we say “Thank you!”

Photo: Melissa Head/NMFS

Sophie Wulfing, an undergraduate student volunteer from Colorado, holds a brown box crab (Lopholithodes foraminatus) during leg 3 of the 2017 West Coast Groundfish Bottom Trawl Survey.