Life Aboard Ship, Dispatches From South of the "Roaring Forties"
Wednesday, May 26, 2004
16:20 EST, 58.0 S, 60 07.5 W
We retrieved all our traps (six, in two strings of three each) that were set in 500m (1625 ft.) of water. They were pretty successful, probably because we prevented larger critters from getting to the bait. We got six toothfish (otherwise called Chilean sea bass, but they are not bass nor even close relatives). Some of them are relatively big (more than three feet), but considering that toothfish reach over two meters (6+ ft.) length and 400 pounds, these are small guys! We have tanks to keep them alive (see photo) and are using them to obtain specimens of tissues. We sacrificed one last night. Virtually all of the organs were used for experiments or study by different research groups. The brain, intestine, heart, blood, spleen, pancreas, kidney, muscle, gills, testes, and other parts were all dissected immediately after the fish was killed.
Three fairly small (3 ft) toothfish are kept alive aboard the NATHANIEL B. PALMER. Better known in the U.S. as Chilean Sea Bass, these sharp-toothed predators can grow to over 6 ft. long and weigh more 400 lbs.
There is a very valuable, widespread fishery for them, and they are heavily exploited. One of the problems in managing this fishery is that it's not only international (Chilean, Falkland = UK, Antarctic, Argentine, and South African waters) which makes it hard to have similar regulations and coordinate fishing controls, and very widespread, which makes it difficult to patrol adequately, but it's also partly in international waters where there is little authority controlling fishing. There are also "pirate" trawlers that operate illegally in national waters of these countries. Despite the best efforts of the nations involved (and they are increasing), the toothfish is considered overfished and appears frequently on environmentally friendly "do not eat" lists.
As I write this we are not far south of the Falklands, fishing a Blake trawl, which is a small relatively damage-proof steel-frame trawl. Ours is about four feet wide. Because of its toughness we are using it as an exploratory net before we do anything else, hoping to minimize damage and loss of our other more fragile (and larger) nets. This is the second tow at this location; the first one worked well and caught some interesting critters, so we are making a second. Weather today is pretty sloppy (winds around 30 knots). We are going to set the traps again, but the slop will have to come down before the skipper will agree to recover them. It's a risk - we may have to abandon them if the weather isn't better by Sunday.
I wish I could send more photos, because we really are doing many interesting things. The problem is that we have limited e-mail (via satellite, three times a day) and no internet at all. When the cruise started we were all given a total e-mail budget for the cruise, and if I send too many photos, it will disappear before the end and I will be presented with a bill before I leave the ship in Capetown.