Posted on August 15, 2011 | Permalink
Student Technican Entry for Week of Aug 8
Location: Atlantic Ocean, Potomac River
Last week was an exciting week. I had one of my favorite days of field work and I was able to witness history. On Wednesday, I was one of the lucky few who got to witness the sinking of the 564.3 foot warship the USS Arthur W. Radford for the Del-Jersey-Land artificial reef. At about 6 oíclock in the morning, I was picked up at the Natural Resources Police office in Queen Anne and we drove all the way to Lewes, Delaware to catch the Cape May-Lewes ferry. The large ferry was used to take selected onlookers to the site to observe the historical sinking. The site where the Radford was sunk was 29 miles offshore of the Delaware coast so to say the least it was a long ferry ride. We arrived at Lewes at around 8:30 and boarded the ferry and at around 9 we were en route to the ship. The ferry ride was three hours long so we arrived at the ship at noon. When we got there, they were doing some last minute preparations on the boat and soon after they started pumping water into the vessel. In about two hours of waiting, we started to see the boat listing to left a little bit. We knew the boat was going to sink soon so we all made sure we had a good spot to watch it. After about an hour, the bow of the ship was heavy and we were all worried that it might go down bow first instead of stern first like it was supposed too. We watched the boat for about 40 more minutes and then all of a sudden the stern dropped below the water and the Radford finally started sinking. One minute after the stern fell below the surface, the ship completely sank. It was really cool to watch, especially when the air bubbles in the ship shot water out of the ocean like a geyser. Watching the ship sink was definitely worth all the waiting. History was made and I was told I would probably never see anything like it again. The USS Radford is by far the longest ship in the multi-state artificial reef and it will provide much needed habitat for fish and also provide a great place to go scuba diving. The ship will provide safety for fish like tautog, sea bass, scup, and triggerfish, and the smaller baitfish will attract rockfish, bluefish and weakfish to the sunken vessel. The Radford is going to be very good habitat for many species of underwater animals. I am very glad that I got the opportunity to witness this beneficial and historical event.
On Thursday, I went out with Fisheries biologists Eric Durell and Angela Giuliano to assist with the juvenile index seine survey in Southern Maryland. It was another early start. We left Annapolis at 5:45 in the morning to go to our first site on the Potomac in Charles County. We started working right away. When we got to the site, we unloaded the van and got everything set up on the beach. One of the first things Mr. Durell did when he got to the beach was throw a stick in the water to see which way the current was going and he stuck a stick on the shore to see if the tides coming in or going out. Itís very important to see which way the current is going because you need to seine with the current. We moved some debris off the beach so it would not get caught in the net and then we started seining. I observed the first couple of times but I still got in the water to help pull the net out and keep it straight. For those who donít know what seining is, a seine is a long net stretched between two poles with floats on the top and weights on the bottom. One person holds one pole on the shore while the other takes the other end of the net and goes out into the water until it gets about four feet deep and then he turns and pulls the net parallel to shore and then back to shore capturing all the fish that was in the small area. I was amazed at how many different fish we caught. We caught several different species of fish and we had to identify and record them all. Most of them were small minnows but we caught a few decent sized fish. We caught Rough and Atlantic silversides, needlefish, blue crabs, stripped killifish, shad, perch, rockfish, and menhaden. We counted all the fish and by the time we were done the 30 minute waiting period between seining rounds was over and we started seining again. We caught less fish than the first time but still a good amount. We sampled three different sites in the lower Potomac. I got to pull the seine at the other sites and I had a lot of fun doing it. I Love being in the water so I had a good time. Iím really happy I got to out and help them. It was a good experience and I learned how to identify a lot of fish different fish species.
Posted on July 27, 2011 | Permalink
Student Entry - week of July 25
Location: Chesapeake Bay
On Monday, I got the opportunity to go patrolling with the Natural Resources Police or commonly referred to as the NRP. I went out with Officer Hunt and Corporal Martin out of Sandy Point State Park and we patrolled their area which was Anne Arundel County, usually points north of the Bay Bridge. We hit the water at about 6:30 in the morning and right away we were getting started. The first boat we stopped was just a small recreational fishing boat. We stopped them to check their catch and their registration and to see if they had the necessary supplies on the boat like enough lifejackets for every person, and flares, and a fire extinguisher. This particular boat didnít have a fire extinguisher so we had to give him a warning. The next couple boats we stopped were watermen. We pulled up next to the boat and Corporal Martin and I boarded the boat to look around to make sure they had everything and to check their catch to make sure nothing was under the minimum size limit. Everything checked out good and they had all that was required. The watermen were all really nice and cooperated with us pretty well. We stopped a couple more watermen and then we responded to a report of a capsized boat floating around the mouth of the Severn River. The 17 foot boat actually capsized the day before on the other side of the bay by Kent Island and it floated across the bay overnight. The officers went to the scene and found the boat and then tied it to a channel marker so the boat would be out of the way of other boaters. They then contacted the owner of the boat, told him the location of the boat, and then told him that he needs to get the boat out of the water as soon as possible. Following our trip to the Severn, we boarded a charter boat and checked their catch. They had some perch and one Rockfish so we had to measure the Rockfish and it was of legal size. After that, my day was basically over. They docked the boat and got everything ready for the next team to go out. I had a real good time going out with the NRP. I learned a lot of boating laws that I didnít know existed and the trip really got me interested in the Natural Resource Police.
Posted on July 22, 2011 | Permalink
Location: Savage River, Hoopers Island
This was a very diverse week for me working as a Student Technical Assistant for the Fisheries Department. My week started out in western Maryland working with Fisheries Biologist Alan Klotz electrofishing for trout and ended at Hoopers Island working with Fisheries Biologist Jeff Horne measuring and weighing Rockfish. I got to work with species from two different environments and got some more experience.
From the 18th to the 20th, me and two other students took a trip out to western Maryland to assist Fisheries Biologist Alan Klotz and other biologists as they were doing their annual trout population survey on the Savage River. We began working at around 9 oíclock in the morning electrofishing and only worked for about three hours or so a day. We only worked for a few hours each day because they had to lessen the flow of water from the dam for us so we could catch the trout easier - water would be shallower for us to walk in. We electrofished three sample areas (one a day) and made three passes to make sure we got the majority of the trout out of the area. I got the opportunity to net the fish for a little while and I caught a couple but I ended up volunteering myself to hold the bucket. This survey was a little different than the other ones Iíve been on. It was different because we were keeping all the trout we caught, not just one species of trout. We ended up catching all three species of trout found in Maryland in this one river, rainbow, brook, and brown. We mostly caught brown trout though. After we had done our three passes of the sample area, the biologists weighed and measured the fish and checked them for injuries. I asked the biologists how this year compared to last year in retrospect to how many fish were caught and I was told that they caught more fish the year before. They told me that the reason why there was a decline in the population was because they had to open up the dam and flood the river which killed a lot of baby trout. And they said that the trout havenít had a good year for breeding in a few years. This trip was very educational for me and I got some more experience which is always good.
On Thursday the 21st, I got to accompany Fisheries biologist Jeff Horne with measuring, weighing, and taking scale samples from the Rockfish that the waterman brought in to the packing house on Hooperís Island. I got to measure the fish and take the scale samples. Iíve measured and taken scale samples from rockfish before but it was easier this time because the fish werenít alive so we were able to speed through it. When we measure the Rockfish, we measure them in millimeters and the scale samples are taking from the fishís back by scraping them off with a knife right below the dorsal fin. We had to take the scale samples so the fish could be aged. I additionally had to check the fish for injuries or abnormalities like diseases. The abnormalities we found on the fish included red marks and nasty looking lesions that were caused by bacterial infections. There were also some fish found with cataracts which was probably caused by an injury to the eye of the fish. We measured and weighed over two hundred fish that day and it only took us a couple of hours. It was a good day and a good end to the week.
Posted on July 15, 2011 | Permalink
Student Technican Experience - Week 3
Location: New Germany State Park
This week was my third week working as for the Fisheries Service and it was a week full of electrofishing. The beginning of the week started out in Western Maryland in New Germany State Park. Ashley, another intern, and I went electrofishing with Alan Heft and other Fisheries biologists. It was a big operation and Ashley and I helped them do a population study on brook trout in Big Run, a relatively small stream that runs through the park. Brook trout are the only native trout species in Maryland and the trout populations seem to be decreasing so the biologists do a population study every year to see how well they are doing. The biologists tag, weigh, and measure the trout that is caught and Ashley and I got to assist them. On Monday, for the first half of the day I was helping with the tagging process. My job was to fetch fresh water for the fish while the trout were waiting to get tagged. I had to almost constantly get fresh water for the trout because it was pretty warm outside and if the water that the trout were in got too warm, the trout will get stressed and possibly die. Trout only can live in cold water. I also had the simple but important job of putting the adipose fin from the trout in the correct numbered vial. The adipose fin is a small meaty appendage on trout and some other fish, and it is located between the dorsal fin and the tail fin. The biologists had to cut of the small fin so they could get a DNA sample to find out the genetics of the fish. Cutting the adipose fin does not harm or kill the fish. Putting the adipose fin in the correct vial was a pretty important job because all the vials are numbered with the fishís tag number so if someone put the fin in the wrong vial, it would ruin the whole process. The second half of Monday, I switched jobs with Ashley so I could help Alan Heft release the trout back in the areas the trout were caught. It was a fun but tiring job because you had to carry 5 gallon buckets full of fish and water a good distance and its pretty tiring walking in waders. I enjoyed that job though because I liked to see where the fish swam to once I released them. They usually swam to a submerged log or a shady spot. Near the end of the day I also got to set up block nets. Block nets are set up at both ends of the sampling site so that the fish canít swim out of the area when they get startled. On Tuesday, Ashley and I got to work together and we were both electrofishing the same stream with John Mullicanís crew. There were two crews electrofishing the same stream so one crew would do a site and when they were done they would go to the site above the other crew. My job mostly was holding the bucket that they put the fish in but I also got to net the fish for a little while. We electrofished about seventeen 50 meter sites and did at least two passes to make sure we got the majority of the fish out of the site. Both crews caught a good amount of trout that day, around 400, but I was told they caught more last year. We did catch a lot of fish that were already tagged so that was good sign. It was a good experience and Iím glad I got the opportunity to go.
On Thursday, I was electrofishing with the Maryland Biological Stream Survey in Harford county. I assisted them with electrofishing Winters Run which is a small river that is close to the bay. I got to hold the bucket as usual and net which I liked. The only difference about this trip from the other electrofishing trips is that the Maryland Biological Stream Survey keeps every animal that they shock up. They werenít just looking for one species. We caught a lot of different species of fish; catfish, bass, shiners, crayfish, perch, a ton of eels and lampreys, and a lot of minnows. We had to identify all the animals that were caught then weighed them all collectively. The team also looked at the plant species that were in the area and recorded the invasive species of plants that were there. After, we were done with Winters Run we headed out to a larger body of water Deer Creek. The team was searching for darters in Deer Creek but we didnít catch any on the first pass so we were done for the day.
Overall, it was another good week working as a Student Technical Assistant for the Fisheries Service. I learned a lot and got a lot of good experience.
Posted on July 8, 2011 | Permalink
Student Technican Experience - Week 2
I had another good week working as a student technical assistant for the Fisheries Service. On Wednesday I got the opportunity to visit the Joseph Manning Hatchery in Brandywine with the Tidal Bass Manager Dr. Joe Love. I was given a tour of the large hatchery which had many ponds and tanks for raising fish. I was able to see the copious amount of fry in the round tanks. The biologists who worked there explained to me that water is pumped out of some of the ponds into the tanks so the fry can eat the small organisms that live in it. The fish in the tank are raised until they get to a certain size then they are released in to the wild or a pond at the hatchery where they will grow some more. The fry that I saw were mostly bluegill and bluegill sunfish hybrids. After the tour, it was time to get to work. Our job for the day was to fish for largemouth bass in one of the ponds. We needed to catch the adult bass and take them out of the pond because the fish were full grown and were eating some of the smaller fish. Dr. Love, another biologist Branson, and I all got our fishing poles and tackle and headed out to the pond. For bait, I used a rubber worm on a hook and the others used various lures. It was very difficult to fish in the pond though because there was a lot of underwater grass and every time we would cast out our lures we would always be pulling up clumps of grass. It ended up being a pretty slow day of fishing. We only caught three bass and I caught them all but we were told that there were around twenty in there so we barely made a dent. Despite the fishing being slow, it was still fun and a good experience. I have never caught a bass on a rubber worm and I didnít think that the bass would go for it but they did.
After fishing, we went to the office located on the hatchery, there Dr. Love showed me how to identify the age of a bass. I assisted Dr Love, who likes a second opinion on how many rings there are within the otiliths. Dr. Love explained to me that to identify the age of a bass, you have to count the rings you see on the inside of the fishesí ear bone. The otolith or the ear bone grows as the fish grows. In the cold weather when the fish grow very slowly, the otolith grows slower and is very dense while in the summer when the fish grow fast the otolith grows faster and thinner. The parts of the otolith that are denser appear dark and the thinner, less dense part of the bone shows up light in color. To age a bass you have to cut the otolith in half to expose the rings, take of picture of it, and then count the amount of dark rings. The number of dark rings in the otolith is the number of winters the bass has lived through. Aging bass this way only works for areas that have cold winters because in areas that are warm year round, the fish grow all year and dark rings are not visible on the otolith. I aged several bass but it was difficult sometimes to see the rings so Iím not sure if I aged them all correctly. Overall, going to the Joseph Manning Hatchery was a good experience for me and I learned a lot about largemouth bass.
On Thursday the 7th, I had a great experience working with striped bass for the first time. The day started off early at 5am at Kent Narrows where I met Mr. Eric Durell and two other biologists. We got the boat loaded and ready and then we caught up with a waterman who let us measure the rockfish that he caught in his pound net. A pound net is a series of nets attached to posts that all work together to trap fish. A pound net has one long straight net, a heart shaped net, and a rectangular net that has a bottom to it. The long straight net is called the leader and it leads the fish into a heart shaped net that corrals them. The heart shaped net corrals the fish and leads them into the pound. The pound is a rectangular net that has a bottom to it so when the fish are all corralled in there, the waterman can just pull the net that is on the bottom and catch all the fish. The waterman we were with today pulled up his pound net and the first thing I noticed was the wide variety of fish. I was expecting to see mostly rockfish and croaker but there were blue crabs, horseshoe crabs, catfish, flounder, menhaden, and others. Once the fish were on the boat we got right to work measuring the rockfish and taking scale samples. We measured the fish in millimeters and we took scale samples by scraping a few scales off the top of the fish with a knife. Collecting the scale samples from the fish doesnít harm them and the scales will grow back. We measured a lot of rockfish and even though I was wearing gloves I still got stabbed by their sharp spines a couple times. After we were done collecting scale samples and measuring the fish, we had to put tags on the fish that the waterman was going to keep. The minimum size for striped bass is 18 inches so anything over that we tagged. The fish needed to be tagged because its Maryland law and the different color tags let people know how the fish was harvested. After, we tagged the rockfish our day was over and we headed back to shore. This was my first time working with rockfish and actually it is the first time I have ever seen a live one. It was a good experience and I had a good time working with the rockfish.
Posted on July 1, 2011 | Permalink
Student Technican Experience - Week 1
I had a very busy first week working as a student technical assistant for the Fisheries Service. On Monday Cameron, Ashley, and I got to accompany Steve Vilnit on a charter boat out of Cambridge. Steve took several chefs on the boat to show them about Maryland crabs and oysters and the process it takes to get them from the water to the restaurants. The boat left shore at around 9am and right away we got to watch some waterman operate their trot lines. Shortly after that we spotted the Robert Lee, an Oyster Recovery Partnership boat, we caught up with them and witnessed them distribute spat on to an oyster reef. Spat are baby oysters that are very small, maybe a few millimeters in length. The process of getting the mountain of oyster shells with spat onto the reef was fascinating. To get the shells off the boat, they had to pump water onto the deck and float the shells off. They couldnít just spray or shovel them off because that might kill or knock off the spat from the shells which would in turn kill them. After watching the process for a while, we headed out to the Horn Point Lab for a tour, the place where the Oyster Recovery Partnership grows the spat. It was a good sized facility that had 52 tanks where they raised the oyster larvae until the larvae grew to become spat on the aged oyster shells. The spat are raised in those tanks until they become big enough to go out on the reefs. Following our trip to the lab, we were taken to Claytons picking house where we observed the workers pick the crabs and the packing system. The pickers picked the crabs unbelievably fast and with little waste. After we watched the pickers, we were guided to the room where the crab meat is canned. The pasteurized crab meat was canned by this old machine that only canned about 80 cans a minute. Once the crab meat is pasteurized and canned, the meat will stay good and still taste fresh for at least 18 months. We actually got to try some of the canned crab meat compared to the just picked meat and you couldnít tell the difference. That was the last stop for the day so we all headed home. All in all, it was a very informative first day.
On Tuesday I helped Chris Judy, Chris manages the Marylanders Grow Oysters Program. We counted the spat that was on the oyster shells he collected from cages that people hang off their piers to help raise oysters . Chris Judy works for the Shellfish Program and he took me and another intern out on a boat in the Tred Avon River to count the spat that was on oyster shells. We had to count how many live oysters, boxes, and scars were on each shell. A box is a dead oyster whoís shell has opened up and a scar is a mark on the parent oyster shell that shows that there was a spat there but the spat died and fell off. We counted 10 five liter samples of the oysters that came out of the cages and we also dredged some oysters off the reef and counted 10 five liter samples of those too. The system we had was two people would count what they found on the shell and one would record what they found. I counted for a while but I volunteered to record the data because I was a little slow at counting. We also wrote down the lengths of 30 random spat per sample, and when we came upon a natural oyster we would write down the size of them too. From the oysters that were in the cages we discovered a lot of live oysters, sometimes 15 or 20 on a single shell, but we also found a good amount of boxes and scars. The oysters that we dredged from the reef had a good amount of live oysters but not as many as the caged oysters, and more boxes and scars than the caged oysters. Altogether, I think we found a good ratio of live spat to dead.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Cameron and I went out to Beaver Creek in Washington County to help John Mullican and a few other biologistís electro fish for brown and rainbow trout so they can do a population study. This was my first time electrofishing and it was a great experience. The way the operation worked was we had two people carrying the buckets to store the fish, three or four netters, and one or two shockers depending on how big the part of the creek was where we were fishing. Cameron and I were the ones carrying the buckets but we also had a net in the other hand so we were able to catch a few fish that the netters missed. We electro fished four parts of the creek, two areas each day, and we had to sweep each area three times to make sure we got most of the trout. After we swept the creek three times, the biologists would sedate the fish and weigh and measure them. The creek we were electrofishing was Beaver Creek which is a unique creek in the fact that it is spring fed so the water temperature stays warm enough all year so the trout there grow faster and year round. We caught a lot of trout, mostly brown trout but a few rainbows and even some wild rainbows that I hear are pretty rare. In a few deeper areas we caught so many fish in one pass that we had to stop not even half way to empty out our buckets. On the first day, we caught 98 trout and a few of them were pretty large. On Thursday we caught a 20 inch brown trout and a few wild rainbows but not as much as the first day. It was a fun experience and I got to learn a lot about trout and the habitat they live in.