Another year, another Cefas survey. I’ve recently got back from helping out on the July survey, which I first took part in 2015, and I’m happy to say I’ve got my land legs back! For this trip we set sail from Portland and spent two weeks sampling in the eastern English Channel and the southern North Sea, going along the English and French coasts and spending a day in Belgium too. There are multiple aims for this trip, but the first and foremost is to collect high quality data for the sole and plaice stocks within the region, which can then be fed into stock advice and assessments for this area.
Having done a few surveys now, it was pretty easy to get back into the swing of things and it felt really great to get back out to sea and see some fish! The species we caught were pretty much what we expected/ what has been caught previously in other trips, including sole, plaice, brill, turbot, haddock, John dory, dab, poor cod, flounder, bib, gurnards – the list goes on! In my mind at least we seemed to catch quite a lot of turbots and brills this year, as well as lots of weever fish (not sure how this stands trends wise, I’ve only done the survey twice). We also got some species that I hadn’t seen before – a Montagu’s seasnail (this was a fish, not a snail) which was tiny and very cute, some two-spotted cling-fish (again, cute and tiny), and lots of mantis shrimp which were fun to look at. Similarly to 2015, we also got lots of baby cuttlefish which were really, really cute and I could have watched them for hours!
I enjoyed getting a bit more involved in the benthos sampling this year too (which basically means looking at all the teeny tiny stuff that’s on the sea floor) and learning about some of the species. You certainly need very good ID skills and a specialist knowledge for that part of the sampling and it always impresses me how people on board are able to tell the difference between what looks like (to me at least) the same piece of seaweed or tiny crab. I also felt that I’ve improved on my otolithing (taking the otoliths, which are like tiny ear bones, from the fish) and maturing and sexing of fish. I’m certainly not as quick as some of the other Cefas staff but I managed to get otoliths from a 2.5cm dab this year so I gave myself a pat on the back for that one!!
Taking this information, which is done for many of the species we catch, helps to provide important insights about the status and health of the stock; for example the age structure and the spawning stock biomass (i.e. the total weight of fish in a stock that are old enough to spawn). This data is given over to ICES – the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea – who collate this with information from other surveys to generate stock advice and assessments. These assessments are then ultimately used as part of the process for determining the fishing quotas for fish stocks within the North East Atlantic region. The really cool thing about this data though (I think anyway) is that it is also freely available online! This means that not only can the data be used for the important process of stock assessments and quota setting, but also in wider scientific research regarding the marine environment and fish stocks. I myself use a range of the survey data from all around the British Isles in my work and it is a fantastic resource to use. Working on the boat is a nice way for me to give something back after using so much of this data within my own work.
After two weeks and with lots of empty sweet and biscuit packets in tow, it was time to head back and dock into Lowestoft. It was a really fun trip, despite not getting much sunny weather that I was promised! A trip to the pub helped to diminish any sad feelings of the survey being over as for me I fear this could be my last trip. As the PhD ramps up into the final stages I feel I should hang up the oilies for a while and get more comfortable in the office chair, much to my disapproval! I’ve absolutely loved spending some of my time during my studies aboard the Cefas Endeavour. She is a great ship to be on, with wonderful crew and lots of friendly Cefas staff to work and relax with. A big thank you to all who have let me on these trips (you know who you are!) – it has been amazing! So to finish, have a look at some of the cool species we caught – I didn’t take as many photos this year given I already have lots of pictures from previous surveys, but I thought I’d share some more anyway!