By Laurie Brokaw
Buncombe County Soil & Water Conservation District
R/V Joe Ferguson along side the NOAA ship Nancy Foster to deliver a recently caught fish.
It's almost a daily event to find out when the R/V Joe Ferguson will be arriving, what interesting visitor will be upon it and, most importantly, who gets to go out fishing! A few educator's and student researchers had that chance. We mainly acted as back-up to the "real" fisherman, but that was ok. A team of talented staff from the Georgia Department of Environment and Natural Resources - Coastal Resources Division acted as our chief fisherman. Over the course of this mission the following folks have generously given of their time and fishing talents to help this research project: Spud Woodward, Eric Robillard, Donna McDowell, Russell Parr, Doug Haymans, Kirby Wolfe, Joel Flemming, Chris Kalinowsky, Dawn Kirdel, Geoffrey Meeks, and Billy Riddick. The scientists on the ship are incredibly grateful for their efforts!
This fishing component became ever more valuable as the traps continued to come back empty. There would be no tagging or tracking if there were no fish caught. No fish - no data.
Chief Bosun Greg Walker and teacher Katheryn Kornberg prepare to lower a tagged fish back into the ocean where it was caught.
But it wasn't as easy as you might think to just "go get some fish”. It took a team to make it work. First Matt Kendall gave us suggested coordinates to travel to and fish. Chad Meckley readied the live wells for the bait and any fish caught. Todd Recicar used his magic (intuition and fathometer) to find us the fish in the designated areas. The fisherman readied their equipment and waited to hear the "Drop 'Em" holler from Todd.
You'd see a rod bend and hear someone yell "Spuds On", which meant that someone had one on the line (Spud Woodward, in this case). Spud, from GA-DENR, just happened to be the first "On" Saturday. By the end of the day he and Eric had caught a total of 6 great specimens (1 red snapper and 5 grouper). After each fish was caught there was a flurry of activity from photo's to venting the fish, but always there was someone watching to make sure each fish was doing ok.
One by one or sometimes three fish at a time were returned to the waiting staff at the Nancy Foster. They were whisked to aerated pools to de-stress - the acoustic tag implant would take place later that day and then they'd be released the following day.
It was a great experience to see the process from start to finish - a fish caught, transported, stabilized, have a little surgery and recovery, and then be released.
Next comes the data.
As a cultural side-note, while out on two fishing expeditions, I noticed strange phenomena among the men-folk. At almost simultaneous intervals, they'd all swoop down upon these large zippered bags, filled with various plastic boxes. These boxes contained a variety of highly organized fishing paraphernalia. Definitely not the tackle boxes of yesterday. I was impressed.