I am in Saba in the Dutch Caribbean with the Dutch
Elasmobranch Society, St. Maarten Nature Foundation, and the Saba Conservation
Foundation serving as a research assistant to an international team of shark
scientists participating in the Save Our Sharks Expedition 2019. Today was our first day out on the water and
our objective was to catch, measure, and tag small sharks on the Saba Bank.
We caught three Caribbean reef sharks and a silky shark – the first time I’ve ever seen a silky shark (check that one off the list). Each shark was worked up by the scientists, with data collected to serve their respective research areas. When each shark was brought to the boat, the first observation was for sex, which we determined from the presence or absence of claspers. And then measurements were taken for total length, fork length, caudal length, and girth. We also took a fin clip, a muscle sample, and a blood sample. Each shark was handled for only a few minutes, and then released back into the water. Every shark today quickly swam away.
Our island hosts Ayumi and Walter from the Saba Conservation Foundation were eseential in making today a success. Walter drove the boat all day and Ayumi served as our expert fisher, helping us with the gear to target the species we were after.
We also trolled for bonito to and from the Saba Bank. We didn’t catch any, but I handlined this barracuda, and we also caught a beautiful green mahi mahi.
Stay tuned for a few more blogs where I introduce some of the researchers and conservation practitioners participating in the expedition. You can also follow the expedition on social media using the hashtag #SabaShark2019, or by following the Save Our Sharks social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
The fish in question are small, mid-water species like myctophids and cyclothones, fish that are incredibly important for ocean ecosystems, but commercially non-viable. The reason they were missed in previous studies is that these small, agile fish avoid nets; This new study uses SONAR and other acoustic tools to measure biomass. So while there is a huge, untapped fish stock in the mid-water world, it is not a commercial fishery.
When you work on the water long enough, you encounter some unique situations. Whether it’s getting stranded during field work, surviving massive seasickness, having your equipment attacked by hostile sea life, or just seeing something unusual, these anecdotes are an important part of what makes marine science fun (sometimes moreso in hindsight). That’s why I’m creating a new category for posts here called “Fish Tales,” where we can share these stories. To start with, here is a literal fishing story.
While I was down in Morehead City for some field work (post on that coming soon), I got the chance to do a little fishing with fellow Southern Fried writers Andrew and Amy and check on potential sites for shark sampling this summer. I’d wanted to test out a new fishing rod set up for sharks and large fish, and had rigged up a wire leader with a size 12/0 circle hook. While casting, it became very clear that I hadn’t properly attached the leader to the swivel when I pulled back an empty swivel where the leader had been. Frustrating, but I’m practically required to lose gear every time I fish, so I rigged up a second wire leader with a J-hook that was on hand.
Circle hooks are used by recreational and commercial hook-and-line fisheries (and many longliners) to reduce hooking mortality in large fishes, sharks, and bycatch animals like sea turtles. The idea is that the hook more or less works by itself without being set like a J-hook. The shape of the hook prevents swallowing and encourages hooking in the corner of the mouth, where it’s less likely to do serious damage.
Hi everyone. I’m Chuck and I used to blog primarily over at Ya Like Dags?, where my main focus was on interactions between apex predators (sharks mostly, but I also occasionally dabbled in other large fish and sea mammals) and those other top marine predators, humans. This was not in the “shark attack” sense, but in the context of fisheries management. Writing about this subject and living it as part of my research have given me valuable perspective on marine science and conservation that I really didn’t have as a freshly-minted Bachelor of Science.
Unfortunately I see more extreme versions of my old perspective show up in countless blog comments, posts, and tweets by perfectly well-meaning people whose only issue is that they’ve fallen for a simplistic, “us vs. them” attitude towards conservation. Consumptive uses of the ocean, such as fishing, are inherently evil and must be opposed. This no-compromise approach sounds cool and may bring in the TV ratings, but is it truly helpful?