Posted on August 17, 2011 | Permalink
Student Technician Week in Review
Last Wednesday, I had the privilege to ride on a ferry out of Lewes, Delaware in order to witness the sinking of the USS. Arthur W. Radford, a retired naval battleship that was to be sunk and incorporated into the New-Jersey-Land reef almost 30 miles off the coast of Delaware. The ship had been stripped and hollowed out in preparation for the sinking so that it could provide an underwater habitat without bringing any unhealthy materials into the water with it. After the ship was towed out to see, more holes were cut into its sides and its hull was opened and allowed to flood. It took several hours before the ship started to tip to one side, but other than being slightly off balance, the vessel showed little interest in sinking. Once the holes in it’s hull went below water level and the ship started to really flood, it only took about a minute and a half for the entire vessel to disappear below the surface. This was very interesting to see in person, and I can now say that I’m a witness to the sinking of the second largest ship that has been purposefully sunk for reef building purposes off the coast of the United States.
On Thursday and Friday, I attended the Maryland Stream Symposium in Carroll County and participated in various stream related activities. One of the activities involved having to use a dichotomous key to identify a large variety of freshwater fish, some of which included channel catfish, chain pickerels, rsyface shiners, northern hogsuckers, and the like. Immediately afterwards, I attended in class in which I got to use a similar method for identifying various freshwater mussels. I had almost no experience with identify bivalves prior to this class, but now I know various anatomical features by which mussel species can be identified. Next on the agenda was a herptofauna search, for which we got to explore a stream and its riverbanks. We found a few different species of salamanders, such as northern duskies and two-lined salamanders, and we also found a couple different frogs, such as bullfrogs and pickerel frogs. The last activity I was able to participate in was a class on identifying benthic macroinvertebrates. Using a dichotomous key, I was able to look at various specimens under a microscope and identify them as different aquatic invertebrates, such as mayflies, caddisflies, dragonflies, water beetles and so on. I had a lot of fun learning how to identify a large variety of freshwater organisms and even learned a bit of taxonomy along the way.
Posted on July 27, 2011 | Permalink
Ashley's Entry - July 27
Last Friday, I met up with Chris Judy of DNR’s Shellfish Restoration Program to transport some young oysters to a reef. These young oysters had been allowed to grow on old oyster shells which were being kept in small cages in Ego Alley of Annapolis. We collected the cages off the docks and transported them out to the Severn River, where we dumped them into a designated area that was marked as an oyster bar. Not only did this trip provide me with the chance to handle oysters such as those I’ve seen being worked with in earlier parts of my internship, but I also learned a lot about GPS usage since we had to use a GPS to find the exact locations in which to dump the oysters.
On Saturday, I accompanied Dr. Joseph Love to Smallwood State Forest in southern Maryland to assist with the Paralyzed Veterans of American largemouth bass fishing tournament. My job was to help weigh fish as boats brought them in, as wells as transport these fish from the scale to a large truck with covered tanks. These shaded tanks were to help keep the fish alive until we could get them back down to the water for releasing. It was a very hot day out, making things very hard on both the fisherman and the bass.
At the end of the first day of the tournament, the largest bass caught weighed in at 4.99 lbs. There was also a cash prize for whoever caught the biggest snakehead that day, and the largest snakehead weighed in reached just over six pounds. At the end of the tournament, we drove the truck back down to the water’s edge and released the bass, one net full at a time.
Monday, I went back to Smallwood State Forest with Dr. Love and a few other members of DNR from the southern Maryland regional headquarters. Our job was to catch bass by means of electrofishing.
I personally found this style of electrofishing off the bow of a boat to be a bit more entertaining then slipping on the rocks of the Savage River, but that may just be because the fish we were catching were a lot bigger.
On Tuesday, I launched out of Liberty Marina on a Natural Resources Police boat with Officer Devin Corcoran. Our job was to spend the day patrolling the South River and keeping an eye out for anything unusual. We discovered that someone was laying traps right in the middle of a float-free channel and even though we were able to ID him, we weren’t able to catch him since he didn’t appear to be out on the water that day. Other than that, we spent most of our time pulling up next to commercial and recreational crab and fishing boats, checking their catches for sizes, checking their vessels for safety gear, and generally checking to see how the Bay was treating them that day. According to Officer Corcoran, it was a very uneventful day, but I still enjoyed being out on the water nonetheless.
Posted on July 15, 2011 | Permalink
Student Technican Experience - Week 3
Location: Potomac River
At the beginning of the week, another intern and I were sent out to western Maryland to work with a few members of DNR that were partaking in a five year brook trout survey. The goal of their project was to catch, tag and release brook trout in Big Run, a tributary stream of the Potomac River, in hopes of catching them again the following year and seeing how much they’ve grown and how far they moved in the stream.
The process of actually obtaining, transporting and tagging these fish was rather labor intensive. In a previous year, DNR sectioned off the stream by measuring out 61 separate 50-meter-long sites. Each site needed to be checked for trout. This meant that block nets needed to be set up between all of the different sites so that the fish couldn’t escape their site and skew the data when we entered the water. After blocking off the first few sites, a crew of several people would enter the first site. One person would be handling electrofishing equipment, at least two others would be following with dip nets, and another person would be in the back to carry a bucket to put the fish in. The person with the electrofishing equipment would stun the fish, help with identifying it and, if it was a brook trout, it would be caught by the people with the dip nets and tossed into the bucket. This part of the job required a lot of patience, as every site needed to be walked through at least twice and tripping and slipping on the same slime-coated rocks more then once was quite the test of endurance.
After a site had been walked through at least twice, the fish were then transported and handed off to a few other members of DNR that would be doing all the data collecting. The transporting of the fish was also difficult since about 3000 meters worth of stream needed to be covered and hiking the fish from the stream to the road was difficult enough to do in waders. Once the bucket did reach the data site, the freshly caught fish were ‘drugged’ so that they’d remain motionless while they were measured for length, weighed, and scanned for a pre-existing tag. If the fish wasn’t already tagged, its adipose fin would be snipped off for a genetic sample and to help visually identify a recaptured fish in the future, and a small microchip would be placed under its skin either using a large needle or by making a small incision in the fish’s underside. After collecting data on the fish, they were allowed a short time to recover before being released into the same site they were caught from.
Since this wasn’t the first year that DNR was catching these trout, we did recapture several fish that had received tags previously. Although we didn’t have time while in the field to see exactly how much traveling these fish had done in a year, we were able to see how much some of the fish had grown and what kinds of injuries they’d received since they were last caught. After two long days of electrofishing and tagging, we had caught about 500 new and untagged trout and about 150 previously tagged trout. Although this is less than DNR had caught in the previous year, which was about 800 fish total, the recapture of trout in Big Run would still be considered successful since tagged fish were caught and some conclusions about growth and movement could be made.
Posted on July 1, 2011 | Permalink
Student Technican Highlights - Week 1
On Monday, I had the privilege of accompanying Steve Vilnit of the Commercial Fisheries Outreach & Marketing program of MD DNR, as well as two other interns and a group of chefs on the Captain’s Lady, a charter boat launching out of Cambridge, MD. The Department of Natural Resources’ goal was to show chefs and students how exactly some of their seafood ends up from being in the water to being in a kitchen. Shortly after leaving the dock, we had the opportunity to observe a commercial crabber running his trotline, collecting all of the crabs on the line in a single net and dumping them into a container for sorting. Before returning to run the trotline again, the crabber was able to share a few words with us about the process and it was fascinating to learn that even someone 81 years of age can so enthusiastically make a living off the Chesapeake Bay.
We proceeded up the Choptank River and met up with the Robert Lee, a boat from the Oyster Recovery Partnership. The boat had old oyster shells piled high on its deck, all of which were being rinsed and dumped back into designated areas in the river. It was explained that these oysters shells, all of which were leftovers from oysters shucked for human consumption, would serve as the substrate on which new oysters could grow. After watching the shells being dropped back into bay waters, we moved a short distance further up the river and did a bit of dredging. We towed an oyster dredge behind the boat and pulled up several very large oysters which we had been told were grown using the oyster shell substrate method we had just witnessed, only these oysters had been growing for about five years. We got to shuck a few of the oysters right on deck and eat them raw, all the while learning about how to tell the approximate age of the oysters and seeing what other critters had taken refuge in the shells.
Next on the itinerary was an unexpected trip to the Horn Point Lab Oyster Hatchery, a part of the University of Maryland Center For Environmental Science. We docked at the hatchery and met up with Donald Meritt, manager of the hatchery, who then took us on a tour. We learned about their process of breeding adult oysters, and how they would gather the larvae and allow them to set on old oyster shells that they received from restaurants. We even had the opportunity to view some of these set larvae, now in their “spat” stage of life, under one of the hatchery’s microscopes. We also received an insightful lecture about how certain factors in the bay affect the growth of oysters, with one of the hatchery’s primary concerns for this season being the low salinity lows.
Upon leaving Horn Point, we traveled back up the river and were dropped off at a crab picking plant. After a short lesson on Maryland blue crab biology, we were able to tour the plant, seeing everything from the large vats they used for steaming up to 40 bushels of crabs at a time, to the picking room full of workers that could clean the meat out of a single crab at an astonishing rate, to the packing room where we got to see their mechanical means of sealing and labeling cans of lump crab meat. We even got to sample some of the pasteurized crab meat, which didn’t have any sort of added preservatives and tasted fresh out of the bay. The last part of our tour allowed us to see the mechanical picker that was a bit out-dated, but still an amazing contraption for picking crab meat with limited human interference necessary. After leaving the picking plant, the Captain’s Lady dropped us off at the dock, thus ending our amazing day on the bay. We had the opportunity to see some fascinating “behind-the-scenes” to oyster raising and crab handling, and the trip was definitely worth going on. My thanks go to the state workers, the watermen, everyone at the crab plant, the captain and crew of the Captain’s Lady, and DNR for making the trip possible.