Butterfish Trip Reports:

 

Shakedown Trip

 

     On November 1, 2010 four Cornell researchers travelled to Point Judith, RI to rendezvous with the F/V Karen Elizabeth and her captain and crew.  Our purpose was a two day shakedown cruise to initiate the research phase of our Butterfish BRD project.  Also accompanying us on this trip was a videographer from the New England Fisheries Science Center.  This trip would last four days overall with two days of travel time and two days of actual fishing.  It was determined ahead of time that the fishing would take place in an area approximatel y 12 nautical miles south and east of Shinnecock Inlet along Long Island’s south shore with an average depth of 20 fathoms. This locale was not typical of the depth that would normally be fished by this vessel but it was chosen to enhance the chance of getting quality video footage.   There were several prime objectives that would be addressed during this trip.  First we needed to test our procedure and data sheets in actual working conditions and then make any necessary changes to improve and enhance the overall performance.  Second, we hoped to obtain actual video footage of the BRD’s while they were being fished.  This information could then be evaluated and adjustments could be made to the BRD’s to improve their function before the next trip.  Finally, we hoped to test several different configurations of the two BRD’s and collect data relative to each configuration in order to make some preliminary assessments as to the performance of each.

 

     The first day of fishing was November 2, 2010 and weather conditions remained favorable throughout  the day.  Both our procedure and data sheets showed the need for improvement during the initial tows but by the end of the day, with input from the crew and captain, all the issues appeared to be resolved.  Video footage was obtained during the first four tows of the experimental net.  Unfortunately, during the fifth tow the camera was damaged by water infiltration and it was unsure whether it could be repaired.  Initial viewing of the video that was obtained did show some quality footage that could offer some insight into the performance of the BRD’s.  During the 6 tows that were completed on this first day, several different configurations of the BRD were tested.  Three tows were completed with the tarp installed and one large mesh panel located on the bottom.  Two tows were completed with the tarp installed and the one large mesh panel located on the top and one tow was done with the tarp removed and the one large mesh panel located on the top.

      November 3, 2010 completed the second day of fishing.  The weather conditions could only be described as ideal with seas dead calm, sunny skies, and air temperatures in the upper 50’s.  With the improvements made to yesterday’s procedure, the day progressed smoothly and more efficiently.  The necessary data was obtained and recorded accurately on improved data sheets.  Repairs to the video camera were completed and video was attempted on the third tow of the experimental net.  The repairs were unsuccessful and water infiltrated the camera almost immediately after it was submerged.  Several variations of the experimental net were towed during this second day of fishing.  Three tows were completed with the tarp installed and two large mesh panels located side to side and three additional tows were completed with the tarp installed and two large mesh panels located top and bottom.

     The F/V Karen Elizabeth returned to Point Judith on November 4, 2010 signaling the end of our successful shakedown cruise.  The cruise was a valuable tool, offering insight into areas that needed improvement and providing some initial data both in the way of video and numbers relative to the performance of the various configurations of the BRD’s.

 

Trip # 1

 

                  Trip # 1 of Cornell’s Butterfish Bycatch Reduction Device (BRD) project took place between January 6, 2011 and January 11, 2011.  The trip consisted of two days of travel sandwiched between four days of actual fishing.  Five Cornell researchers travelled to Point Judith, RI and rendezvoused with the F/V Karen Elizabeth to began our approximate 14 hour steam to the Hudson Canyon region.  The Karen Elizabeth is a 79 foot steel, stern trawler built in 1983 by Gaudy and Stevens that is rigged to tow two nets simultaneously.  This vessel is ideally suited for this project as it allows the control net and the experimental net to be towed concurrently.  The two nets are identical 3-bridle, 4-seam rope trawls manufactured by Jonathan Knight and Superior Trawl.  The sole difference between the two nets is that the experimental net is capable of being outfitted with various configurations and combinations of both of the BRD designs.  Based on visual information from the video obtained during the shakedown cruise Jonathan Knight added a series of kites to the outside of the large mesh panel for this trip.  The video had revealed that the meshes in the large mesh panel were not fully extended while being towed.  The addition of the kites should help the meshes open to their designed size thus offering the maximum area of available space for butterfish escapement.

                  Day one of fishing began on Friday January 7th shortly past 7 am.  The day progressed smoothly with all six tows being completed successfully.  The weather was ideal and all equipment, procedure, and protocol functioned flawlessly.  All six tows were completed with the experimental net configured with both BRD’s and the large mesh panel placement was top/bottom thus allowing escapement through 50% of the circumference of the net.  Preliminary examination of the day’s data showed the control net retaining almost five times the amount of squid compared to the experimental net.  Rough estimates have the control net total at 10,245 lbs. of squid and the experimental net total was 2,250 lbs.  Information relative to butterfish bycatch was minimal during this first day of fishing.  Four of the six tows resulted in zero butterfish in both nets and the remaining two tows had a combined 2 lbs. or less for both nets.

                  January 8th marked the second day of fishing during this trip # 1.  Fishing began again just past seven in the morning.  The day began with good weather and ended with deteriorating conditions.  The wind and wave height increased as the day progressed and pop up snow squalls occurred throughout the afternoon.  Despite the weather, all six research tows were completed and there were no issues with equipment or personnel performance.  The experimental net was again configured with both BRD’s and the large mesh panels were still located both top and bottom.  Squid totals for the day were roughly 730 lbs. for the experimental net and 1008 lbs. for the control net.  These numbers suggest a better performance by the experimental net.  The third tow of the day did result with two lobster pots stuck in the experimental net.   This did not seem to influence the performance of the net as the catch totals for both nets were very similar during this tow.  Butterfish numbers increased dramatically with the experimental net showing a drastic reduction of butterfish bycatch. Preliminary totals were as follows; the experimental net retained 4139 lbs and the control net had 14326 lbs. 

                  The third day of research fishing began at about 7:30 a.m. on January 9th.  Weather conditions remained poor with winds gusting over 25 knots and wave heights in excess of 12 feet.  Only five research tows were completed this day due to gear issues.  During the first tow of the day the large mesh panel BRD was torn during haulback as the net was wound around the net reel.  The tear was repaired by the crew but a significant of time was lost as a result.  The five tows were completed with the experimental net configured with both BRD’s and the large mesh panels were situated side to side as opposed to top and bottom.  Squid totals favored the control net with greater that 2.5x the amount than that of the experimental net.  The preliminary totals were 2879 lbs. for the control and 1098 lbs. for the experimental.  Butterfish totals were minimal with only 0.5 lbs in the experimental and 3.0 lbs in the control for the entire day.

                  The fourth and final day of fishing began at 7:15 a.m. on January 10th and the foul weather continued.  The winds were still gusty and although wave height had diminished, they were still in the 8 to 10 foot range.  The experimental net was again fished with both BRD’s and the large mesh panels arranged side to side.  At the day’s end the control net had caught approximately 3x the amount of squid (10205 lbs.) than that of the experimental net (3363 lbs.).  Mixing of the two species (squid and butterfish) proved elusive once again as the totals for the day of butterfish were low with only 4.60lbs for the control and 1.9 lbs for the experimental.  The trip concluded with a long 16 hour steam back to the Karen Elizabeth’s home port of Point Judith.  Once there, the Cornell team unloaded their gear from the boat only to load it back in our trucks to return to our home port of Riverhead, NY.   

 

 

 

Trip # 2

 

Trip # 2 for the Cornell Marine Program’s Butterfish Bycatch Reduction Device (BRD) project took place between January 27, 2011 and February 2, 2011.  Five Cornell researchers travelled to the port of Point Judith in Rhode Island and boarded the F/V Karen Elizabeth.  The schedule for this trip was to include 2 days of travel to and from the fishing grounds and to conduct six days of research fishing.  The trip was cut short after the fifth day of fishing due to deteriorating weather conditions and the threat of a severe winter storm.  Based on the fact that we were unable to locate areas where squid and butterfish were mixing on any kind of significant basis during the last trip and also because the captain of the vessel had located an area with concentrations of butterfish, it was decided the first half of this trip would focus on butterfish and the second half would focus on squid.  The trip resulted in the completion of 29 research tows.

Day one of fishing began on January 28th at 7:15 a.m.  Weather conditions were favorable with overcast skies and calm seas.  The experimental net was outfitted with both BRD’s but only one large mesh panel that was located on the bottom.  It was apparent throughout the day that the butterfish had been located as large quantities were brought aboard.  Only 5 tows were completed on this day because of the increased amount of time it took to clear the deck due to the amount of fish.  Some tows were shortened to less than one hour because of indications of large catches from the net sensors.  Three of the day’s tows also found lobster pots making their way into our gear.  Preliminary catch totals have the experimental net retaining significantly more butterfish and slightly less squid than that of the control net on this day.  The numbers for the experimental net were; butterfish = 33,251 lbs. and squid = 527 lbs.  The numbers for the control net were; butterfish = 21,468 lbs. and squid = 564 lbs.

January 29th at 7:26 a.m. marked the start of our second day of fishing.  The experimental net was set out today with both BRD’s but the single large mesh panel’s location was moved to the top.   The weather started out beautiful with sunny skies and calm seas and continued this way into the early afternoon.  Conditions gradually worsened into the later afternoon as the wind and seas increased and snow squalls moved in. Approximately midday, a large Coast Guard vessel approached our location and launched a rigid inflatable.  We were boarded a short time later and the Coast Guard staff performed a routine vessel and safety inspection.   Six tows were completed today despite the Coast Guard boarding and having to deal with significant quantities of both butterfish and spiny dogfish.  The final three tows of the day were reduced to ½ of an hour in an effort to complete the six tows before the loss of daylight.  Derelict fishing gear was encountered again today as both lobster pots and long line gear were hauled on deck.  Totals for both squid and butterfish for both nets on this day were as follows:  the control net had 5,404 lbs. of butterfish and 799 lbs. of squid and the experimental net had 7,673 lbs. of butterfish and 637 lbs. of squid.   These numbers continued to confound as the squid totals seem appropriate but the butterfish totals continue to seem contradictory.

The third day of research commenced on January 30th and it had been decided that we would leave the concentrations of butterfish and focus our attention on squid.  The first tow was started at 7:14 a.m. with the experimental net arranged with both BRD’s and one large mesh panel located on top.  The weather was good throughout the day and the day progressed smoothly and without incident.  We managed to complete seven one hour research tows during the daylight hours.  We did locate the squid but once again the butterfish numbers were minimal.  The day resulted with the control net retaining 127 lbs. of butterfish and 4,149 lbs. of squid while the experimental net had 1.2 lbs. of butterfish and 2,056 lbs. of squid.  These totals continued to show no consistency and are a source of disturbance as the project continues.

Day four of fishing began at 7:08 a.m. on January 31st.  Weather conditions were favorable with sunny skies and relatively calm seas.  The experimental net was fished with both BRD’s and only one large mesh panel situated on the bottom. The target species was once again squid and the day progressed smoothly with no major problems.  No derelict fishing gear of any kind was encountered during the day and the crew managed to quickly repair a minor issue with the sweep that they found on the experimental net during tow three haulback.  Tow number three also provided the first instance where there was an abundant mixing of both squid and butterfish.  Totals for the day with the control net were 911 lbs. of butterfish and 4,513 lbs. of squid and for the experimental net the totals were 2,146 lbs. of butterfish and 3,122 lbs. of squid.

February 1st was the fifth and last day of fishing during this trip.  Air temperatures hovered in the fifties but the wind speed and wave heights increased throughout the day as an approaching storm grew closer.  The tarp was removed from the experimental net and the single large mesh panel was kept on the bottom.  Only five tows were completed this day and of those only four provided usable data.  Tow number three was hauled aboard with a massive whale skull and rib bone finding their way toward the codend of the control net.  The crew worked feverishly to remove the bones from the net while minimizing the damage.  Despite their best efforts, the bones resulted in a three hour delay and the entire catch from both nets being run over the side of the boat due to the smell.  Totals for the two nets from the four usable tows were as follows:  the control net had 6lbs. of butterfish and 2,585 lbs. of squid and the experimental net had almost 9 lbs. of butterfish and 2,026 lbs. of squid.  There still appears to be no rhyme or reason to the total numbers.  Further in depth analysis of the exact numbers and data will be required to better understand the performance of the BRD’s.

The Karen Elizabeth began her slow, rough journey home.  We travelled through the night trying not to be tossed from our bunks as the powerful winter storm passed over our location.  Early on the morning of February 2nd we arrived safely in Point Judith where we unloaded our gear and bid farewell to the crew until the start of our next trip.

 

 

Trip # 3

 

                  Trip # 3 for the Cornell research team’s Butterfish Bycatch Reduction Device (BRD) project occurred between February 14th and February 19th 2011.  This trip was to include two days of steaming and five days of research activity.  Accompanying the four researchers from Cornell was a videographer from the NEFSC with some new video equipment.  The videographer was on board to put his new equipment through the paces and hopefully acquire some video footage of the experimental net under tow.  Any acquired video would lend some insight into the performance of the BRD’s and to species specific behavioral reactions to the net. The desired time frame for this trip was again cut short due to weather.  Only four days of research fishing was completed as another winter storm forced the vessel to return to port one day early.

                  Day one of research was February 15th and this day would be dedicated solely to testing the video equipment and obtaining some video.  We steamed from Point Judith to the northeast side of Block Island to some shoal water.  The idea was to test the equipment in water ranging in depth from 20 to 25 fathoms.  This would offer the opportunity to discover any issues or problems before attempting to use the equipment in water that ranged from 70 to 90 fathoms.  Tows would be short and averaged only 15 minutes and nine tows were completed during the day.  Seven of the nine tows were successful in retrieving video.  This video suggested there was a problem regarding the location of the large mesh panel.  The panel was supposed to be located at the top of the net the entire day. After viewing some video, it was realized the panel was not located properly and it was corrected.  Tows three and nine resulted in no video but only because of minor issues with a memory card.  No squid or butterfish was caught, so there was no data collected relative to catch that would be pertinent to this project.

                  The morning of February 16th marked the second day of research but the first day of actually fishing for squid.   The weather was favorable all day with sunny skies and light winds.   The crew of the Karen Elizabeth and the Cornell staff managed to complete seven one hour tows.  The experimental net was fished with both BRD’s and the single large mesh panel was located on top.   Video was attempted on tows three and six and the results looked promising.  Preliminary examination of the day’s data showed some mixing of Loligo and butterfish.  Totals for the control net were 4,907 lbs. of squid and 944 lbs. of butterfish versus 3,692 lbs. of squid and 956 lbs. of butterfish in the experimental net.

                  The second day of research fishing started at approximately 6:45 a.m. on February 17th.  Seven tows all one hour in length were again completed.  This was in part due to the lengthening amount of daylight available.  There were no problems associated with weather as conditions were fair with overcast skies, light winds, and wave heights in the three to five foot range.  There were no encounters with any type of derelict fishing gear or other miscellaneous objects in either of the nets.  Attempts to capture video were made during four of the day’s seven tows.  All of the video attempts were successful but one.  In this case the camera broke free from its mount so it was no longer securely directed toward the BRD’s.  Today’s fishing would again focus on squid hoping to see similar results to the mixing of squid and butterfish that we had the previous day.  Preliminary examination of the totals for each net revealed some mixing of the species and the indication that the nets were achieving the results that we had hoped for.  For the day, the control retained 3,348 lbs. of squid and 221 lbs. of butterfish.  The experimental net resulted in 2,948 lbs. of squid and 118 lbs. of butterfish.  These preliminary numbers are an indication of the results that we had hoped for when comparing the two nets.  The experimental net showed close to 50% reduction in butterfish while only showing a 14% reduction in squid totals.  Although these numbers are not ideal, they are a considerable improvement over the erratic results we have had previously.

                  February 18th marked the third and what would be the final day of research for this trip as an impending storm would cause the loss of one day of research.  The threatening storm forced us to leave our current location to stay ahead of the weather.  The only option was to change our focus from squid back to butterfish which were located far less offshore and closer to home.  The weather throughout the day quickly changed from fair in the morning to poor in the afternoon with strong winds and seas in the ten to fifteen foot range.  The butterfish were quickly located as was evidenced by our first tow.  The quantity was large enough to cause a significant delay in clearing the deck. This in combination with the weather and delays caused by the video equipment resulted in only five completed tows.  Video was attempted during all five tows with some good footage obtained.  The final four tows were reduced from 60 minutes to 30 minutes or less if the net sensors indicated the need to do so.  Totals for the two nets for the day were as follows:  the control net had 11,421 lbs. of butterfish and 1,732 lbs. of squid and the experimental net had 15,664 lbs. of butterfish and 1,803 lbs. of squid.

                  This final day of fishing brought this research cruise one step closer to its conclusion.  All that was left was for the crew and Cornell Staff to hunker down for the night.  The trip back to Point Judith proved to be bumpy one as the Karen Elizabeth did its best to stay ahead of the full fury of the storm.  We arrived safely in port early the following morning glad to be safe and back on land.                      

 

 

Trip # 4

 

            Trip # 4 for the Cornell research team’s Butterfish Bycatch Reduction Device (BRD) project occurred between November 25th and December 2nd 2011.  This trip included two days of travelling and six days of research activity. The focus of this research trip was to evaluate existing gear designs in the offshore Loligo squid fishery to test for differences in bycatch reduction of butterfish and other species and also for the retention of target species.  Specifically, to compare the rope trawl to the box trawl in paired tows using the F/V Karen Elizabeth, a twin trawler.

Our goal was to conduct 6 paired tows per day for a total of 36 paired tows comparing the two net designs.  Onboard catch processing remained the same as that of the three previous trips.  Our target species was squid and we focused on quantifying the differences of butterfish (bycatch) and squid (target) retention between each type of net.  We also quantified the bycatch of other species such as whiting, dogfish, skates, ling and various flounders. 

Day one of research was November 26th and 7 one hour tows were completed, one more than the anticipated 6.  The weather was favorable all day with sunny skies, light winds and moderate temperatures.  The F/V Karen Elizabeth, with its twin trawl capabilities, was outfitted with the rope trawl on the starboard side and the box trawl on the port.  Butterfish totals for the day were extremely low with the rope net retaining only 1.6 lbs. and the box net totaling 2.2 lbs. for all 7 tows.  Squid numbers were higher with 7 tow totals of 3,089.2 lbs. and 4,759.9 lbs. respectively for the rope and box nets.  

            The morning of November 27th marked the second day of research with the nets being set out at 6:56 a.m. and configured on the opposite sides of those from day 1.  Seven tows were again completed due to a combination of hard work by the captain and crew and the Cornell staff, no gear or equipment problems, and moderate catch totals. The weather cooperated with conditions better than yesterday’s and calm seas.  Preliminary examination of the day’s data showed a slight improvement in the mixing of Loligo with butterfish.  Totals for the rope net were 1,544 lbs. of squid and 16.8 lbs. of butterfish versus 1,961.9 lbs. of squid and 51.7 lbs. of butterfish in the box net.

            The third day of research fishing started at 6:50 a.m. on November 28th with the rope net back on the starboard side and the rope net returned to port.  Seven tows all one hour in length were again completed.  The weather and sea conditions were ideal for this time of year with sunny skies and air temperature approaching 60 degrees and wave heights in the two to three foot range.  To date there were no encounters with any type of derelict fishing gear or other miscellaneous debris in either of the nets.  This along with factors mentioned earlier again allowed us to complete 7 one hour tows.  Today’s fishing would again focus on squid while hoping to see a continuation of the improvement to the mixing of squid and butterfish that we had the previous day.  Preliminary examination of the totals for each net revealed an increased mixing of the species.  For the day, the rope net retained 3,145.7 lbs. of squid and 165.1 lbs. of butterfish.  The box net resulted in 4,262.7 lbs. of squid and 268.7 lbs. of butterfish.  These preliminary numbers are an indication of the results that we had hoped for when comparing the two nets relative to butterfish bycatch.  The rope net showed close to a 40% reduction in butterfish retention.  Squid retention was down by approximately 25% in the rope net for the day and although this number is not ideal, there are other factors such as quality of the product and labor involved that should be considered during the final analysis.

            November 29th marked the fourth day of research for this trip.  Having swapped sides again, the two nets were set out at 6:49 a.m. for the start of the first tow. The weather and sea conditions continued to cooperate as both were still calm.  The day progressed uneventfully with the captain, crew and Cornell staff now having perfected procedures and again completing 7 successful tows.  Several derelict lobster pots were recovered but caused no issues as catch totals remained moderate.  Totals for the two nets for the day were as follows:  the rope net had 121.7 lbs. of butterfish and 2,683.4 lbs. of squid and the box net had 177.7 lbs. of butterfish and 3,611.7 lbs. of squid.

            Fishing on day five began on the morning of November 30th at 6:51 a.m.  Our run of good weather had come to an end as we were greeted by rain and increased wave heights as we ventured on deck for the start of our day.  Despite the less than ideal work conditions, we again completed 7 tows with the rope trawl located on the starboard side and the box trawl fishing the port side.  We had now completed 35 paired tows, only one shy of our anticipated 36, and we still had one day of fishing left.  Totals for the day were consistent with everything to date and were as follows:  the rope net caught 181.6 lbs. of butterfish and 1,880.1 lbs. of squid while the box retained 245.3 lbs. of butterfish and 2,058.6 lbs. of squid.

            December 1st marked the sixth and final day of this trip.  We awoke to see the return of the sun but not of calm seas as we had to deal with wave heights of 8 to 10 feet into the middle of the afternoon before they started to reside.  The nets had again been switched the previous night to continue the protocol of alternating sides daily.  Tow 1 began at 6:53 a.m., this also continued the protocol of research fishing starting at first light (sunrise).  The first tow was completed with no issues just as the previous 35 had been.  But this would prove to be the end of our run of good luck.  Our first attempt at tow 37 resulted in large bags of pup sized dogfish.  The captain estimated the total of the two bags to be between 8,000 and 10,000 lbs.  The decision was made to run the catch over board in an effort to save time and continue fishing and collecting data that was more relevant to the project.  Once the deck was cleared and with a slight change in location, tow 37 was started again and completed successfully.  Tow 38 was completed uneventfully and tow 39 proved to be the end of our trip.  Shortly after tow 39 began, the captain realized there was a problem with the gear (nets) and began to haul back.  The port side net, the rope trawl, had become entangled with the remnants of a fiberglass boat and had brought what was left of the boat to the surface.  In addition there was also additional fishing gear (trawl net) complicating the issue.  The captain and crew worked tirelessly for hours to untangle the mess and not lose their own gear.  They managed to free the boat and retain their rope trawl but the damage to the net was severe and could not be repaired at sea and thus proved to be the end of this research trip.  For the day, three tows were completed bringing our total for the trip to 38.  The totals for the day were as follows:  the rope net caught 36.3 lbs. of butterfish and 800 lbs. of squid while the box retained 102 lbs. of butterfish and 1093.2 lbs. of squid.         

This final day of fishing brought this research cruise one step closer to its conclusion.  The weather began to lay down which allowed for a more comfortable steam home.  Initial on board observations were that the rope trawl reduced the amount of bycatch across the board but it also reduced squid totals.  Although squid totals were reduced there are other factors that should be considered.  For instance, the quality of the squid appeared to be better in the rope trawl due to the fact that it was not caught with as much bycatch.  Also there is far less work involved with sorting the catch in the rope trawl again due to the reduced bycatch.  Obviously an in depth analysis of the data will need to be performed before any conclusions can be drawn when comparing the performance of the two types of nets.  For the Cornell staff, all that was left was to hunker down for the night.  The trip back to Point Judith proved to be smooth one as the Karen Elizabeth arrived safely in port early the following morning.