Day 23

9th November 2001

Finally the weather has broken! It’s still not calm, but life has got back to more or less normal now. I got some sleep last night and had a shower today, so all in all I think I can say that I’ve weathered the storm.

It’s strange being at sea; it’s as much about your state of mind as anything else. I prepared for it to be challenging in lots of ways, but I didn’t expect it to be such a mind game.

We are fishing again now; only my second proper work day after so many days at sea. I observed the hauling from a little cubbyhole near the stern. It’s fairly safe there as it’s out the way of the trawl and of the crew, but fairly exposed to the weather and to be honest I couldn’t see any more from there than I could from the bridge so I think I might just watch from the bridge from now on.

The Atlantic wolffish (Anarhichas lupus)
The catch is poor today, probably only about a tonne in the last trawl. I climbed into the fish bin for a proper look. Wading among the fish I felt something clamp down on my welly boot – it was a big old wolffish. If like me, you have never seen an Atlantic wolffish before, imagine a blenny that you caught in a rockpool as a child, then enlarge said blenny to a metre long, add leathery grey skin and powerful canine teeth which are capable of crushing shellfish and crustaceans, then you have the Atlantic wolffish. Luckily the wolf fish didn’t bite very hard and didn’t puncture my boot. It was an interesting fish so I picked it up and carried it out into the factory for a better look. It was still very much alive and so I treated it with respect, both because I didn’t want to cause it undue stress but also because the potential damage it could inflict on me was evident by the powerful jaws and sharp teeth.

It didn’t take the crew long to process the catch and so I tried to count the boxes of fish to compare against the reported figures. It was more difficult than I thought it would be trying to keep track of the number of boxes of each species. Hopefully I’ll get my eye in soon and be able to produce some good quality data.

9th November 2017

One of the main roles of an observer is to independently verify the catch, i.e to ensure that the ship accurately records and reports figures for the fish they catch including bycatch species which have no commercial value and are thrown back into the sea, usually dead. This information is crucial in managing a fishery. Stock assessment scientists use this data to feed into computer models which predict how many fish there are, and how many can be caught without damaging the stock. The aim is to leave enough fish to breed and ensure the fishery is renewable and healthy. The models can only work accurately if they are supplied with accurate data to begin with.

Unfortunately in many fisheries effort is focused  on the management of commercial species, and bycatch species such as the Atlantic wolffish are virtually ignored. Some modern fisheries are moving towards an ecosystem scale model, where the health of all species are considered.

Wolffish play a key role in the ecosystem, especially by keeping numbers of crab or urchins in balance. Too many urchins for example, may overgraze the kelp and diminish the habitat which acts as a nursery ground for many fish species. Therefore if you remove the wolffish you risk major knock-on effects to the whole ecosystem.

Wikipedia on Wolffish:

The numbers of the Atlantic wolffish are rapidly being depleted, most likely due to overfishing and bycatch, and is currently a Species of Concern according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s National Marine Fisheries Service.

Apart from their unique appearance wolffish are distinguished by the natural antifreeze they produce to keep their blood moving fluidly in their very cold habitat, involvement by both the male and female in brood bearing, and the large size of their eggs. They are also an important factor in controlling green crab and sea urchin populations, which can become overly disruptive to habitats if left unchecked. Wolffish population success is also an important indicator of the health of other bottom-dweller populations, such as Atlantic cod.

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