A successful, yet brief, training trip to Fairbanks

I’m gearing up for my 4th field season in arctic Alaska! This year ,I’ll be a researcher on two cruises, one studying walruses and bivalves in the Chukchi Sea and one to studying food webs in the Beaufort Sea. After that, I’ll travel to the village of Kaktovik on Barter Island to lead the Kaktovik Oceanography Program (an annual outreach effort hosted by UTMSI and USFWS), for my third and final summer.

Though I’m no stranger to life at sea or working a 16-hour night shift, I am a stranger to a piece of equipment I’ll be using this summer… A plum staff beam trawl!

A trawl net hangs down vertically in the water with a float line on top and a lead line on the bottom to keep it oriented correctly. A beam across the front ensures the mouth of the net stays open. The net is then towed horizontally through the water and critters are collected in the net’s long tail. Most scientists use trawl nets to catch fish, but my group will use the net to collect bivalves that live on and in the seafloor sediments. That means we’re going to let out a lot of line to pull the net directly over the sea bottom. AKA we’re going to get very muddy!

Assembling the plum staff beam trawl

While the trawl net itself might look simple to use, our team needed to become experts on setting up and successfully deploying the net, as well as repairing it (fingers crossed we won’t need any repairs!). If anything goes wrong on the ship, we’ll have to fix it ourselves. Dr. Vanessa von Biela, who leads my group, and I met at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks to learn from the expert, Lorena Edenfield, who has years of experience fishing with these nets.
We practiced setting up and taking down the many lines and shackles that assemble the trawl net and tying the all important knot in “cod end” (or tail end) of the net. If this knot comes loose while the net is fishing, everything we catch will slide right out the back of the net! We also learned how to calculate the appropriate scope (amount of line to let out) for the shallow environment of our cruise.

The knot ends in a daisy chain for quick release

Overall, it was a successful, if brief, trip to Fairbanks! Anything to beat the South Texas heat for a few days!