Ahoy, sailor!

I’ve just got back from a two week research survey with Cefas and I had the best time! Given that it was my first ever time at sea/doing anything like this there was so much to learn and everything was new to me but I had such a good time I was almost tempted to stay at sea (but then, the prospect of wine lured me back). First thing to note from the trip is that everything will smell of fish!!

The survey that I was helping out on is part of their annual summer Eastern English Channel survey. I use a lot of the Cefas survey datasets in my own work so it was a really good opportunity for me to find out how the data is collected, what the potential errors/biases in the data might be and also brush up on my fish ID skills (not hard given they were virtually non-existent to begin with…). We sailed from Portland and then for the next 13 days or so we sampled along the English, French and Belgium coasts before then heading back into Lowestoft.

The work was the same each day – tow the gear at specific survey stations for about 30 minutes and then sort the catch!

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It was fun to see what would come up in each haul, although more often than not it was just the same sort of species just in different quantities. That said, we got a good variety of different species I think, ranging from sole, plaice and dab to starry smooth-hounds, monkfish and a cool looking garfish! I have to admit that I developed a soft spot for the lemon soles (so cute!) but those velvet swimming crabs not so much (feisty little buggers!). We also brought up some cuttlefish eggs in one haul which all hatched in the bucket which were very, very cute and tiny! I’ve popped a few pictures below of some the things we caught, click on them so they become bigger…

 

After we sorted everything, we took it all in to get weighed and entered onto the computer system that is on board (very clever piece of kit!). For most species we recorded their length and how many there were, and then for some species, such as plaice, sole, gurnards, whiting, we took their weight, maturity and also took the otilths out (difficult to do at first but I think I got the hang of it in the end…). Any Undulate rays we caught we tagged and then released back. It was really cool to get to handle the fish and get a better look at them.

On some stations we also had to look at all the benthos and try to ID that… quite a tricky task in my eyes as most of the stuff looked the same/just looked like blobs of ‘stuff’! After all the sorting, everything went back overboard, and I was surprised by how many species did seem to still be happily flapping as we put them back in the water (especially the dogfish!).

Before we set sail I thought two weeks was going to feel like ages but everything actually went really quick. The team that I was working with was a lot of fun and we had lots of laughs to keep us going even on the days when sorting through another box of fish seemed a bit of a tedious task! Our evening karaoke sessions also helped to pass the time, as did eating copious amounts of biscuits! On one day we also managed to spot one of the scientist’s sister who was swimming the channel that day for charity – such a rare coincidence to have happened but it was fun to watch for a bit and cheer them on!

So, all in all, I had a brilliant trip and was quite sad at the prospect of heading back to the office and looking at a computer screen. But what a great opportunity – I’ll definitely be trying to get on another survey next year and see what else we can catch!

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