Northwest Fisheries Science Center

2017 West Coast Groundfish Bottom Trawl Survey

Blog Entries for August 2017

Survey Blog -- Pass 1 Leg 5 --F/V Straw: Santa Barbara to Long Beach, CA

By Doug Draper
August 14, 2017

picture of a calendar with dates of travel

Leg 5 started out of Santa Barbara, California on July 10, with a light breeze and calm seas. The science crew consisted of Chief Scientist Doug Draper, back deck biologist Dan Kamikawa, and survey volunteer Eric Brasseur who is normally a member of the West Coast Groundfish Observer Program. Eric also filled the role of photographer on this trip (all photo credits to E. Brasseur, except as noted). The F/V Last Straw personnel consisted of Captain Wade Hearne, deckhands Steve Berliner and Carl Cromer, and night watchman Chris Pearce.

Figure 1. Santa Barbara Harbor showing a multitude of vessels. The docks are mostly filled with pleasure craft, and some local fishing boats, but our larger research trawlers were kindly allowed in there. Our chartered research vessel, F/V Excalibur, is seen in the center of the photo.

The final leg of each survey pass encompasses more area than any of the other legs, and includes many of the Channel Islands, a large exclusionary zone known as the Cowcod Conservation Area (CCA) with prohibited fishing, and U.S. Navy training areas.

This expansive area harbors plenty of year-round and transient marine mammal species, such as grey whales, humpback whales, blue whales, common dolphins, Pacific white-sided dolphins, harbor porpoises, California and Stellar sea lions, and harbor seals just to name a few. One of the highlights this leg was the appearance of a pod of Risso's dolphins. They are found worldwide in temperate and tropical ocean areas, but usually prefer offshore waters. This group was spotted a little southwest of Santa Cruz Island.

view of pacific ocean with the view of the back of a gray whale
Figure 2. A fin whale at the surface, before diving, showing the characteristic long back and dorsal fin.
view of four dolphin fins in the water
Figure 3. A group of Risso's dolphins. Much of the dorsal surface of these mammals is covered with scars, perhaps attributable to their feeding almost exclusively upon squid.
pacific ocean under a gray sky with a small sighting of a dolphin in the water
Figure 4. A curious Risso's dolphin is seen displaying a behavior known as 'spy-hopping'.

On another note, Leg 5, because of the expansive area, also has a highly varied bathymetry (essentially underwater topography) and sediment composition, and some areas are just not that well known or charted.

Figure 5. Bathymetry chart of the Southern California survey area overlaid by the survey grid.
Each square of the grid represents one potential survey trawl station.

One of the most integral components to ensuring the success of our annual survey is the vessel personnel. Every trip we rely heavily upon the knowledge, skill, and experience of the vessel captains and crew, and this trip was no exception. Early on in the trip, we attempted a tow in an area that, according to the electronic navigation charts, showed sandy bottom. However, in reality it turned out to be more than a little rocky and with hard substrate, and we ended up ripping part of the bottom panel (known as the 'belly') out of the net.

three crew members on boat deck
Figure 6. Captain Wade and crewmen, Carl Cromer and Steve Berliner, work to repair the net by 'sewing' the web on the torn belly.
three crew members on deck
Figure 7. The Captain and crew of F/V Last Straw mending the torn net.

We always pack a large tote of webbing panels of varying composition just for such occasions. It turned out to be the last tow of the day, but due to the hard work and dedication of Captain Wade and crew, the net was repaired (though it did take about 3-4 hours), and we sampled that station first thing in the morning without further incident.

The remainder of the trip went quite smoothly, with warm weather and calm seas (great for marine mammal watching), until our arrival into Long Beach, California. Time to disembark and say our 'fare-thee-wells' to the vessel's Captain and crew, and wish them safe travels back up to their home port of Newport, Oregon where we'll see them again during our demobilization.

The F/V Last Straw in forefront of harbor
Figure 8. The F/V Last Straw departs Rainbow Harbor, Long Beach, CA after dropping off science crew. It will be a 4-day trip back up to Newport, Oregon (Photo credit: Doug Draper).


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