notes from the field

No. 18 - Bottom Trawling

Thirty days of bottom trawling. If this sounds boring, consider that commercial trawl ships are often called draggers. However, it's anything but a drag. We've sampled 8 sites so far and processed about 5000 fish; some go into the galley, many are viable and go back over the side, and some are sacrificed to determine their sexual maturity, their food habits and their parasite load. Although there are 40-50 species of fish in the area, only a handful constitute the bulk of the biomass. One group, the ice fishes, have no hemoglobin and a sort of antifreeze in their blood - which is a pale-white sticky fluid. Their gills are creamy white instead of blood red.

We caught an opah, a very rare fish for here, a sleek deep-bodied cruiser with a green/blue body and red fins, that was over 3-feet long and weighed 75 pounds. We ate him. We try to keep the catches small, but on one station we ran the net through a spawning aggregation and came up with 3 tons -- most went back into the sea to continue with their love-making. We try to get 3-4 sets in each day (at night the fish rise of the bottom and are difficult to catch) but the weather has had a mind of its own.

We're currently sitting behind a small island called Cornwallis as the wind and sleet hurtle past Elephant Island extending his trunk toward us. The sea is a churning washing machine as the ocean flows around the big island; standing waves rise over the banks and amplify a big ground swell rolling in from the west. Although Cornwallis looks like the Rock of Gilbratar, rising straight up out of the sea and down again, it's not providing much protection. But we've no where else to go so we'll sit here with our nose into the weather until it changes. The ship is stout and up to the task, and she's relatively comfortable in spite of the rage outside. If the wind backs to the south, we'll go north of Elephant; if the wind veers to the north, we'll go to a couple of sites on the south side of the island.


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