As we settle into what seems a long winter, here is a free fishery education program for fishermen to consider attending one of the various GMRI - MREP or Marine Resource Education Program workshops in the northeast region. I have mentioned in the past after being fortunate enough to first attend the initial 'FISHERIES SCIENCE & MANAGEMENT FOR THE RECREATIONAL ANGLER' which is a unique way for the average angler, through to those in the for-hire and commercial fishing industry and even within the management realm to come together to listen and learn on how collected fish survey data is collected before it filters from the science through to the management process. The best tool here for anyone attending a MREP workshops is to have and keep an open mind, and concentrate in absorbing as much as possible in what truly is an intense three days of what are essentially graduate-level discussions given by a number of the top fishery scientist and researchers in the northeast region.
For this particular 200 level workshop, the benefit is in seeing first hand how the initial sampling of trawl survey data is collected, then a laymen's overview of the science on how the various biomass and biological estimates are made. I was fortunate to go through this workshop over a year ago, and though my memory may be fuzzy in some areas on what occurred in each of the images, I believe it will keep this thread brief in highlighting the relevant details over the three days I attended.
I should first point out that in order to go through the 'MREP 200 - INSIGHT INTO THE STOCK ASSESSMENT PROCESS', you must attend one of the various 100 level programs. The information in applying for these free programs, can be found here:
To apply, a short application must be filled out and hopefully you are chosen to attend one of the fishery management workshops. From what I know, you must attend one of the 100 Level workshops to advance to the 200 Level workshops. All the programs are free as so far as lodging in some very decent hotels, all meals provided even snacks, along with mileage reimbursement for travel to and from these locations. Also you will receive some very nice and very detailed handouts that will be used during the individual instruction modules. The materials will help assist as so far as the science and management fishery-speak which is all part of the learning process given by a number of instructors, a number who extensive graduate studies and a few who have Ph.D. after their name.
For this workshop you will first arrive and stay in Falmouth Massachusetts on Cape Cod, and from this starting point at the Holiday Inn (highly recommended!) and over the next few days you will travel to:
- Newport, Rhode Island to board the R/V Henry Bigelow, along with other trips on Cape Cod to the
- Northeast Observer Center,
- Gear Loft and to the
- science centers located in Woods Hole.
Unlike the other workshops, there is a good amount of traveling around the scenic Cape Cod area which adds to the enjoyment along with having time to informally talk to both the fishermen attending the program and the instructors.
* The visit to the R/V BIGELOW
After settling in at the Holiday Inn, day 1 starts with everyone being prepped for the day ahead as you will take a long road trip from Falmouth, Massachusetts back to Newport, Rhode Island where the survey mothership is home ported.
"Why there?" you may ask, and a little backstory about the original plan of having the R/V Henry Bigelow to arrive and secure itself right next to the 'labs' in Woods Hole, until they found out that the R/V Bigelow and its deep draft prevented it from docking there. One can easily see on a NOAA chart the water depths along with the marks indicating all the rocky and foul bottom in that particular area. A 'whoops' that was joked about when it was brought up, but I highly doubt that those at the highest level of the Service were too happy when this development came up.
For those who have not seen the R/V Bigelow out on the ocean, it is a ship of considerable size with a LOA of over 200 feet. For a number of us attending the program, this was the first time being this close to the R/V BIgelow and all were surprised of the overall large appearance it displays even when berthed. An interesting point here was in first getting into this area as we need more than a TWIC card for identification. Everyone had to at least present this card (if you had one) as well as some having a military ID to be allowed to get onto and be escorted through the facilities as this is a US Naval facility.
Once onboard, you are brought to the galley area and your eyes are drawn to the floor where you see each leg of a chair having a cut tennis ball attached. After settling in, ground rules are laid out onto what to expect during the tour/discussions, and it is here where you start to get the idea on how hard the work is when conducting surveys and stock assessments. One of the key things that you are reminded of is to be aware for various 'tripping hazards' as you walk through the vessel before being broken into small groups to see each work area/station/labs on the ship. Our group started by being brought out onto the main rear deck and seeing the Route 138 or Newport Bridge which leads out to Rhode Island Sound and the ocean that R/V Bigelow passes through.
On the main rear deck you will see a large A-frame, crane and two trawl net reels. The net is winched up the ramp after each tow, a crane hook attached and then lifted over with the contents within deposited onto the rear deck.
Another little backstory when talking about the strange setup here was about a crane cable failure during the 2016 spring trawl survey off Cape Cod. We were told by a number of those who were onboard that trawl survey that almost everyone available had to come out on the back deck, and for the next six hours count and toss over this pile of bow-wow's.
It is from this initial point where the sorting of species starts, with a pre-determined number of samples deposited onto a the conveyor belt, then baskets where a bar code scan tag is attached as it makes it way into the 'Wet Lab' where various measurements are made. This is at times intense and becomes tedious work as we were told can go on for hours depending on the number of samples that have to be sorted through. Normally two people are positioned at each station, one being the 'cutter' and other 'recorder' who now go about recording information and/or take samples once the fish is measured and weighted on the Scantron fish meter board.
Depending on what data is needed from that tow, this can range from storing a few whole fish, cutting open and looking at or collecting stomach contents, scale samples removed, sexting of fish and the removing of the otolith (inner ear bone). You will be told that there are three different types of ear bones, with the largest being the 'sagittal' which are removed then later further examined to age the fish by reading the rings (similar to what a tree makes) on this bone. These samples are placed into clear ziploc-like envelopes, sealed and a bar code attached with the cruise ID # and other voyage particulars before being placed into the freezers which will be seen below.
The person standing at the table has a magnetic metal thimble like device on one of his finger which he uses once he lays a fish on a measurement board. The thimble is pressed against the TL (total length) of the fish, with this along with the weight information then entered into the computer. This is repeated up until the time an inaccurate length to weight info is entered whereby a sound will be heard to re-check and input the data again. The software has a historical database range of length to weight information for each species stored, and is trying to ensure the accuracy of the inputted data at this stage.
To see the whole process during a bottom trawl survey, a short discussion and a video is shown on how all these stages are linked starting from the net being brought onboard and right on through to the sorting and species sampling.
After being shown the large freezers where samples are stored for later study at the Woods Hole labs, you are brought to a room next to wet lab where various gear along with the knives and gloves are kept. It just happened the R/V Bigelow just returned from a recent trawl survey and all the cutting tools had been cleaned.
Next was a trip up to the wheelhouse where the complex computerized trawl net system, bottom profilers and navigation station is seen. I am going to lump all these images together with the main instrument of discussion being the auto-trawl monitoring system. It is pointed out that the net has sensors which in real-time feed back information to a computer in order to ensure that the tension on the wires which extend to both the doors and net are equal so that doors and wing spread properly for each of the 20 minutes tows or 'streaming' within each of the 'survey-tow boxes.' This also works in hand with a computer program monitoring the net itself in order that it is fishing within the defined 'calibration parameters' in order for that tow to be validated. If that particular tow falls outside a number or pre-set tolerances, the tow is failed and must be redone. This is one of the little facts that we were surprised to learn when the R/V Bigelow is doing a bottom trawl survey.
One other little point to notice is that a majority of the echo sounding and monitoring systems are manufactured by Simrad on the R/V Bigelow.
Here was a little "give and take" about the towing on and during a bottom trawl survey, and it was again repeated that the boxes are, 1) randomly chosen during a survey voyage and, 2) ALL tows being 20 minutes in towing duration in collecting specie samples. The net itself has been one of the biggest issues of contention with the fishing industry due to and as noted with both it's catch per tow efficiency along with its consistency in collecting an accurate sample. As we were told, it took a number of years since the R/V Bigelow was built to calibrate the net and its design to a vessel as powerful as the Bigelow. One of the other important which the survey and research scientist emphasized in net design was in trying to limit as best in killing a large number of species for each tow when doing a species assessment.
The key word that was often mentioned is with a specific size 'sample' is all that is needed to give an somewhat-accurate representation on the amount of a particular species in the tow box. Also they noted that the net used, and this will be seen once we move over to the Gear Loft on the next day, was to be eco-system designed, not for a specific species in order to get an idea of the marine life within the environment of that tow. To give you an idea on what the tow boxes in the New England region look like, here is the example given by NOAA:
Once the above towing-box is selected, the R/V Bigelow then goes about collecting bottom trawl survey data through the various 'boxes' as can be seen with 2016 inshore GOMaine Atlantic Cod survey. As you can see they move to one area, then the next, setting, towing and then hauling back on the net. The bag is tripped on the deck, contents sorted through, all while the net is reset in the next tow box.
From the top deck we traveled down toward the engine room where it was apparent that CAT Power for both propulsion and for their generating system.
One of the most important points made about the engine compartment was about the extensive use of rubber mounts on all the equipment to lessen any sounds and vibrations from being picked up by the extremely sensitive sonar and acoustic equipment.
I was told that besides some of the major maintenance that has been done on a ship that was barely over a decade in service, the replacement of the rubber mounts is critical and one of the other reasons why the R/V Bigelow returns to the shipyard every few years.
The last area to venture through was the acoustics and computer lab. One thing that is not seen is that R/V Bigelow has a retractable centerboard that is lowered from the bottom of the hull at the keel which has sensitive sensors and hydrophones. The information is sent from here and up to the bridge to the various sonar and sounding units.
This is a noticeably small room considering all the critical work that will be done on a cruise, with a number of different monitors as seen in the image above and below.
Finally while on the R/V Bigelow, you have to make a visit to the ship stocking-stuffer store before leaving.
On our way out, we saw this sign...obviously getting ready for the next cruise.
It was now time to go back to the Holiday Inn in Falmouth for another classroom discussion before dinner. This was held at a nearby restaurant that already was celebrating this time of the year.
Needless to say, the food was delicious and through all the MREP workshops I have attended, dinners are always looked forward to!
- Observer Program facility in Falmouth
- Gear Lab in East Falmouth
Hopefully you get a good rest and no doubt when you are in a room like this, since day 2 requires you put your walking shoes on once again.
Off to the vans and a trip over to the North East Observer building where the training center is located, but also where those who send in VTR's go. That will be explained and shown shortly. First you are greeted with this:
Here you will be escorted to a pretty neat classroom which has numerous pictures, maps and fishing related items along the wall. You will spend a good amount of time with lectures through the morning on how the collected biological samples are used in stock assessments. Then it was onto a discussion about the observer program, something those in the commercial fishing industry are very well aware of. One of the interesting little back stories about the program is that it has an extremely high 'churn rate' of young people who go through an extremely tough training program, and then end up leaving the program after making a bare handful of trips within the year.
After the discussion, everyone breaks into small random groups and the first station we went to was a table illustrating the 'Electronic Monitoring' equipment or as some whispered, "the spying on fishermen tools" over the years with the newest/latest being the tablet.
The next station brought us outside where tables were set up to demonstrate the materials available for observers to accurately ID both fish and various marine species. Yes they are real, along with the need for collection of certain species for further study as shown at the last table.
It was back inside to what someone called the "observer playhouse" but it was far from it as you came to see how observers learn to quickly measure the amount caught and different species of fish brought onboard. All the equipment fishery observers have to lug along is displayed, sometimes requiring a hand truck for a observer trip. This area is just short of a small aircraft hanger where the various equipment for the program is stored.
Another area is set aside where a pen full of foam colored objects are contained. Measuring devices are used along with math tricks which are taught to make calculations proverbially "on the fly" when a pile of fish is dumped on the deck and is being sorted through and retained or sent out the scuppers. It is not easy for these young people who are learning, many with no hands-on background in commercial fisheries. The funniest comment came from one of the draggermen in our group who said, "it's easy for them...just copy off my sheet!"
It was back through the doors and into a room that reminded us of stepping into a world far removed from the computer age. This is where the VTR's in this region end up.
I would have taken a few more pictures here but not only I but others were pretty astonished how a VTR makes the rounds with the data entered into what are essentially home computers. Pencils with erasers along with storage boxes surround each station, and you come to understand the painstaking work each of these individuals do as incorrect information is checked and re-checked before entering into the database before being eventually filed away. We looked at some of the boxes in the room and yes, they are behind by a year or two, if memory serves me right. The walkaway thoughts were on how these people went about reading some of the 'chicken scratch' on the these VTR's day by day. Makes you really push for electronic reporting after seeing this.
This wrapped up this part of the workshop and it was time for lunch. The MREP instructors pick up and pack lunches in big coolers which are then brought along. Believe me when I say there is more than enough tasty food for the group. We would need it since the next stop was to the Gear Loft where we would see some very interesting exhibits.
Pulling into the warehouse lot, various commercial gear is seen laying about. From roller sweeps, nets, scallop dredges, and to numerous sets of doors for the various vessels used for survey work.
One area was set up so display a scallop dredge and how it works. The discussion was led by Victor who showed the equipment and how the gear is put together, then the way a scallop dredge is used in order for the scallops to find their way inside the dredge.
From there we went inside the Gear Loft and where the net used on the R/V Bigelow was set up and on display. There is also all the equipment needed for those who work in the Gear Loft to literally build a complete net.
Here you can see some scale with a person in front at the opening of the net.
This is the front view with the net opened up as if it was being towed along the bottom. The next image illustrates when you are inside the net and right up to the bag.
There was also another neat display in another room where the infamous 'Hab Cam' was stored.
'Hab Cam' is short for 'Habitat Mapping Camera System' which allows the towing research vessel when surveying to view color images as it is pulled along the bottom. 'Hab Cam' became noted for its scallop survey work, but later came known to the public when the R/V Sharp lost the 'Hab Cam' when it hung up on the largest known ship to sink off the east coast of the United States in decades. It was shortly and as they stated in the shop, thankfully recovered, and some of the damage is still seen if you look closely at the images.
This was a pretty amazing day 2 but it was not over yet. Back to the Holiday Inn for more classroom where the topic of 'cooperative research' would take the final hour before dinner.
- The Woods Hole Labs
- The Age & Growth Lab @ 'The Cottage'
- The Aquarium
Day 3 started with a short trip in the vans which brought us and for myself, back to the fishing dock at Woods Hole. I should point out that the trip was to where the North East Fishery Science Center is located. Memories came back to a time where I spent a number of years commercial pin hooking right out of this location, and I wish I would of taken pictures during that time starting in the early eighties and how the location looked back then. Surprisingly little had changed with the dock, boat ramp and the Cottage itself.
For those who had never visited this area, it is one of the most scenic on Cape Cod with it's nautical flavor, but the commercial fishing industry that existed here has given way to small New England style shops, along with the various marine buildings that line up along the main street.
There was more classroom discussion as the brand new Chief at the science center, Dr. Jon Hare conducted the first module before we headed up to 'The Cottage' which may be the most unique lab to see during the three day workshop. I believe it was Eric who gave us the tour in a building where fish-scale and otolith samples are sectioned, aged and stored. The tour comes down to making a few steps here then there, as you are within a confined space of what essentially can be considered a home. There is a main area where it was pointed out that the special sectioning tools are used, then a number of smaller rooms where the ageing of fish species is conducted. If I remember, in one room they were ageing YFT, Yellow Tail Flounder, and the story from the woman doing it daily, left us in awe. In another was something with Black Sea Bass. On the white board, you can see the markings of the species that are being studied and other information. After going through this part of the workshop, if I mentioned before that the other survey work being tedious, this is possibly the finest of precision biological science going on right here within 'the Cottage.
After this, it was back inside the Woods Hole Aquarium which happens to be the oldest in the country. It is a pretty neat place since you can see a number of familiar local species held in the tanks.
Funny little story is that one of the instructors of the program, John Williamson happens to mention to George who is the Director of the program there that I do some writing. "Oh boy I figure" as it comes to my attention that he teaches....writing! Needless to say he later pulls me to the side the next day as he read some of my stories and had something in hand for me:
"Thank you George" who then said to me that this would help in lessening my destruction of the 'Kings Good English' as I sometimes/often do, and though not an easy read, I did finish the book and keep it by my bedside.
Getting back to the final module it was on the stock assessments methods along with concepts on sampling as we ate our final lunch.
By 2 pm it was time to wrap up and as we left the Aquarium, Dr. Wendy Gabriel, Alexa Dayton and Rob Johnson (I believe he retired) said goodbye. From here we had to get back in the vans for the ride back to the Holiday Inn where our vehicles were to make a long, but extremely pleasant trip back home.
Going through these images for the first time since I original took over a year ago brought back some great memories. This particular workshop is a must for those who really want to understand what goes into fishery survey data collection and I should add, analysis. The people here are tremendous, and this is where I had come to learn the disconnect between the people who work in this area to those at the next step who then manipulate this data and incorporate it into the fishery management - thus the regulatory realm which fishermen then have to operate within.
For those who are fortunate to attend, arrive early the night before and enjoy a good meal at the hotel. Relax and get some rest because the days are pretty long between the show and tell at each of the locations and the classroom instruction.
One little tip is when being broken into groups, mix within those groups who have experience with other gear types and fisheries. I was fortunate to go off in one group at the Gear Loft who had extensive knowledge of commercial dragging gear, one being Meghan Lapp, and this helps if you have other questions. By mixing into different groups, you do hear a number of stories from the other fishermen who come from all over the northeast region, which also helps expand your learning experience during this workshop.
I have to point out that John Williamson has been instrumental with this MREP program, and I still see John from time to time at Council meetings as it concerns wind energy. Much thanks to him since he is a wealth of knowledge especially if you have questions during each of the modules.
for those who want to get some more background, there is no better website than the NOAA Teacher at Sea Blog where more intricate details are explained on many of the modules we went through over the three days.
Hopefully this gives those who want to attend an overview on what to expect, but I will add that you must personally experience it. No doubt it will surely make an impression on you as it did with me.