ST. ANTHONY, N.L
Every spring, fish harvesters wait in anticipation for the announcements of annual quotas from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). Those quotas are informed, in large part, by data collected on two Canadian Coast Guard research vessels, the CCGS Teleost and CCGS Alfred Needler.
The Teleost was in St. Anthony last week for a change of the nine scientific staff about halfway through the 63-metre ship’s fall multi-species trawl survey.
“We operate 24 hours a day on the vessel, so there would be four staff in the wet lab during each 12-hour shift and they’re responsible for sampling the catch and there’s a person in charge who oversees the overall logistics and strategy in consultation with the coast guard crew operating the vessel,” explained Dr. Ben Davis, DFO aquatic resources division manager for Newfoundland and Labrador.
The fall survey runs from the beginning of September until just before Christmas and covers northern Labrador (2GH), southern Labrador (2J), northeast Newfoundland (3K) all the way down to the Grand Banks (3LNO).
During that time the crew conducts approximately 600 fishing sets of 15 minutes each,” Davis said.
“The catch from that 15 minutes out of the net is taken down to a wet lab and our science staff then count and measure and dissect and record biological information like sexual maturity of fish, the condition of the liver and they will look at the stomachs to see what the fish are feeding on,” he said.
They do it for all the species that are of commercial interest, including fin fish and crustaceans, but also non-commercial species, Davis said, “So we get a sense of what’s going on in the overall ecosystem.”
”We also collect oceanographic information,” he continued. “There’s an instrument attached to the trawler and it collects temperature and salinity data in the area we’re fishing, throughout the water column and that gives us information to assemble a picture of what’s going on in the ocean environment because that’s where the fish live and that we can use as part of the predictions we make around what’s going to happen with the species of interest going into the future.”
Although those predictions are used in the decision-making process, the Teleost’s mission is purely scientific, Davis said.
“Once the data are collected from all over the continental shelf, then it’s assembled and we run an analytical stock assessment for the species of interest and that information turns into scientific advice that’s ultimately given to the minister, but (also) given to fisheries managers and it’s shared with stakeholders in the fishing industry and environmental groups, who have an interest in the state of the fisheries resource in Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said.
Samples collected are returned to the ocean after processing.
“Our sets are short, we don’t usually catch much, we catch a sample of what’s present on the bottom,” he said. “Every now and again, we’ll get a big catch that we will process, but everything is discarded back into the ocean once it’s measured and sampled.”
Davis declined to say what the fall catch is showing them so far, saying it currently is just a bunch of raw data and it would be irresponsible to comment on it.
“I don’t have anything preliminary right now, and it would be inaccurate of me to give you any sense of what’s going on because, honestly, I don’t know and until the data are worked up and give us a picture of what’s going on,” he said.
The survey has been going on since the early 1980s.