I have just returned from a two-week Groundfish Survey aboard the NOAA R/V Albatross IV. I sailed on the first leg of the survey which is meant to cover 90 stations from Cape Hatteras, NC to Cape May, NJ, the Southernmost extent of the NEFSC’s survey range.
Going out to sea for the first time can be nerve-wracking enough, but I had the pleasure of coupling it with my first hurricane-at-sea experience. Ophelia and the Albatross arrived at the Southern tip of Hatteras at precisely the same time, creating quite a stir. Gusting winds and high seas shut down our fishing operations for over two days, and in the interim as we tried to put up with boredom and claustrophobia of being stuck on a ship for two days with no work to do, it took all my energy to stay upright, even when sitting down.
When we were actually fishing, the technology on board the boat amazed me. There are three work stations set up on deck, with three waterproof, touch-screen computers (think entering data with slimy, bloody gloves) connected to scales and measuring boards. You just press a button on the scale and a magnet to the correct length on the board and voila! your data is recorded. The software (called FSCS: Fisheries Science Computing Software, i think) prompts you for the sampling procedures, protocols, and sample requests specific to species and Statistical Area.
As far as the fish go, there is officially a new critter in the running for cutest saltwater fish ever. He is the longspine snipefish macroramphosus scolopax, edging out the former frontrunners ocean pout and lumpfish by a nose.
Other catches of interest included the rare, deepwater sixgill shark, several endangered Atlantic sturgeon, and many stingrays and interesting deepwater fish. When Ophelia pushed us out of the Southeast and forced us to sample off Long Island for the rest of the trip, we saw more of the typical Southern New England groundfish (summer flounder, sea robins, winter and little skate, windowpane flounder, etc.) and a couple of tropicals displaced from the Gulf Stream. (Including a flying gurnard and several pissed off Northern puffers.)
Here is a shot of me and my watch sorting fish at some ungodly hour of the morning.