Saturday, August 11, 2012

Fisheries Science: Not for Sissies

Every two months, we sample Sarasota Bay for three days...and pull an insane number of nets.  Last Tuesday, I got my bi-monthly day on Sarasota Bay.  A typical Sarasota Bay day goes like this: wake up in the middle of the night (okay, 5 a.m.), drive over an hour, pull nets till your muscles start bleeding, count fish until your head spins, crawl back into the truck, drive over an hour, go home, and collapse on the floor.

I was in the field on Monday, but luckily we had easy pulls and light catches - not to mention a nice view at lunch:
Those are the days of which office workers really can be jealous.  Every morning of field sampling, we stop at the gas station.  On the beautiful days, everyone says, "Wow, I wish I had your job - get paid to go on the boat!"  Of course, on the rainy, windy, stormy, freezing (or all of the above) days, people say, "Wow, you have to go out in this???"  And we do, as long as we won't die doing so.  I've been out in the outer rain bands of hurricanes, people.

So - back to Sarasota Bay.  On a typical sampling day, we might pull 4 600 foot seines, or 8 small seines and trawls.  For Sarasota Bay sampling, we have to cram as many samples into a short period of time as possible.  A typical Sarasota Bay day consists of perhaps 3 600 foot seines, 4 trawls, and 10 small seines.  I happened to be on the record-breaking trip where we pulled 20 samples in a day.  We were in chest-deep water at the last site, and I was so tired that I feared I would not be able to haul myself back aboard.  I told the rest of the crew to save themselves.  Luckily they were a selfless crew and helped me up.  That's the way we roll.  Biologists saving biologists.

Public interactions on Sarasota Bay are often interesting.  It's quite a busy waterway.  Four biologists hauling in a 600 foot net tends to attract attention.  Oftentimes people think we are illegal netters, which I find funny because we would have to be the stupidest illegal netters in the world to do it in broad daylight close to a busy channel.  We are also often mistaken for Mote Marine, which is located in Sarasota.  In fact, we often see Mote vessels out there!  Sometimes we do get questions that make us giggle just a little.  Last time we got asked if there were sharks in the water.  Yes, I'm pretty sure there are sharks in Sarasota Bay.

If you ever wondered if there are plenty of fish in Sarasota Bay, I can assure you that there are.  There is also quite a large diversity of fish.  I am usually weary of counting pinfish, mojarras, and anchovies after a day on Sarasota Bay.

When I get home, the first thing I do is treat myself to a nice hot shower.  It's always interesting to see what flotsam hitches a ride home on me.  This last trip clogged up my shower drain with shoal grass (a type of seagrass) and a bunch of dead leaves.  I then put antibiotic ointment on my wounds and collapse on my couch.

Okay, that's a little dramatic, but it is a really hard day.  And I always feel a little bit stronger and a little bit more empowered after surviving days like that.  Fisheries science is not for sissies.

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