Wednesday, July 25, 2018

What We're Doing

So, in case you're trying to get up to date with the plot for this season:

The Pacific cod stock in the Gulf of Alaska, which had previously supported a very important fishery, suddenly crashed last year. Available data point to the effects of the 2014-2016 marine heatwave in the North Pacific. This heatwave, in turn, was, according to our best scientific understanding, partly the result of human-caused changes to the atmosphere. The evidence is that you just can't get the North Pacific as warm as it was under the pre-industrial climate.

Remember those good old days when global warming impacts were the concern of the future?

I have been working as an adjunct research professor at the Fisheries Department, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska, for a year now.

Yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds. :)

Basically, my job is to identify meaningful research questions having to do with Alaskan ecosystems and fisheries, and then to secure outside funding to support that research.

After the cod collapse there has been tremendous interest in getting a handle on whether the stock will recover. That entails better understanding of the factors affecting survival in the youngest cod - the ones less than a year old.

So that's where we come in. Alisa and I are both biologists with a background in nearshore ecosystems in the Gulf of Alaska. Alisa in particular is a real expert in the sometimes hard to identify juvenile fishes that live in the nearshore, including juvenile cod and their various cousins.

So we secured funding to conduct a pilot study of those less-than-a-year-old cod in the western Gulf of Alaska this year, from Galactic.

Our sailboat is slower than a commercial fishing boat or private research vessel that might typically be chartered for this kind of work. But we are also waaay cheaper. So we're able, for a reasonable cost, to spend a couple months traveling out west along the coasts of Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula, and then back again, sampling the cod population in every little bay we stop in.

So far we've visited ten bays and sampled 56 sites with our little net that we set from the skiff and haul into the beach by hand. Tomorrow we set sail for the storied cod port of Sand Point, in the Shumagin Islands. We hope to sample two or three more bays in the Shumagins before we turn around and start heading home, re-sampling our sites on the return trip.

What our days look like in the actuality is, either, me in the cockpit in the rain, conning the barky to the next bay, while Alisa works in the galley at keeping everyone's morale up, or enters data on the computer, or reads to the boys, who otherwise mostly lounge around reading comic books, OR, the whole family, at some deserted anchorage, all of us in neoprene waders and rain jackets and life jackets and lots of warm clothes, driving the skiff up to a beach, hallooing for bears and keeping an eye out for net-snagging rocks.

We have completely given up on having much in terms of decent weather for this summer. But otherwise we're having the time of our lives.

This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

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  1. Hi Mike & Alisa:
    Is there someone in your research group who is documenting/studying ocean acidification as the mortality mechanism you are seeing in your field study?


  2. So excited to read the NPR piece today. "Hey, I kinda sorta know that guy!" Sure, I've only followed your blog (via Del Viento's link), but we've never met. I'm a GIS analyst, with an interest in marine bio, so I love reading about how you combine cruising and science. Congrats on the coverage. But I wish Alisa got mentioned in the photo caption. Journalists, sigh.... Dawn on s/v Firefly