Sarah Burton, Fisheries Intern
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Posted on June 29, 2012 | Permalink
Week 3: A Week Full of Travel and Great Experience
Region: Eastern, Western, Northern
Location: Tred Avon River, Cambridge, Beaver Creek, Otter Point Creek
My third week at DNR was particularly eventful. On Monday, I worked with Chris Judy, Program Manager of Marylanders Grow Oysters. This program strives to replenish the oyster population by having individuals from around the state grow oysters in cages (built by Maryland inmates) off of their private piers for nine months to a year while the oysters are at a vulnerable, young age. The piers we visited were located on the Tred Avon River, in Oxford. The oysters we pulled up were smaller than I expected and latched onto larger, empty oyster shells, which they had attached to as spat, or juvenile oysters. We took random samples from some locations, counting the live oysters, scars (marks from a detached oyster), and boxes (empty, attached oyster shells) on each larger shell. After collecting the oysters from the cages, we planted them at an oyster sanctuary nearby on the Tred Avon.
On Tuesday, I went along with Steve Vilnit and Kelly Barnes on a daytrip taking four chefs to a small, private, soft shell crab farm, Choptank Sweets Oyster Farm, J.M. Clayton (the world’s oldest crab house), and a lunch at Ocean Odyssey in Cambridge. The softshell crab farm was at first hard to spot but we pulled into the driveway of an older, private residence where we were welcomed to a separate area behind the house where they kept soft crabs. Upon entering we observed water, kept close to the crabs' natural salinity, temperature, and dissolved oxygen levels, being circulated into several long bins where dozens of crabs at different stages of molting were kept. We even got to touch a soft, squishy molting crab. At J.M. Clayton, we toured the facility and saw every stage of the process starting with fresh delivery of crabs by local watermen, to the hand-picking right next door by about 90 lightning-fast pickers, to packaging the fresh crabmeat, some of which we received and gladly devoured. At the oyster farm, we saw hundreds of floating cages, located in relatively shallow water near the shore of the Choptank, containing millions of oysters. We learned about their growing process, starting with tiny spat which, when mature enough, would be put in these floating cages to eventually be harvested and sold. We were also lucky enough to enjoy some fresh oysters right on the spot as well. On the shore of the farm, we pulled out our crabmeat from J.M. Clayton and some obligatory Old Bay to top our oysters with, and each thoroughly enjoyed the food and scenery.
On Wednesday I accompanied John Mullican and a small crew to two sites on Beaver Creek for a summer trout survey. It was here that I learned about electrofishing as a method to determine the abundance and health of fish populations. The crew carried two backpacks, wired to batteries and connected to a tail-like cathode and an anode which they would sweep across their front to stun nearby fish for collection. I was told repeatedly never to touch the water while electrofishing, as it would deliver a strong and uncomfortable shock. Though it was difficult in mid-torso deep water with a net in one hand and bucket in the other, luckily none of us had to experience this. During this survey, we were only after brown and rainbow trout, but we encountered lots of suckers and minnows, and some darters and sculpin. For each site, we would set up a net up ahead of us to ensure we collected only what could be found at this site at one time and prevent any other fish from drifting in. We completed three runs for each site in order to collect as many of the fish as possible and afterwards, we would weigh and measure them and compare the data to previous years and differently locations, focusing on locations where efforts had been made to restore the natural environment of trout.
On Friday, I joined Andrew Becker at a stream survey at Otter Point Creek in Harford County. This survey greatly differed from the Beaver Creek survey. Instead of a total crew of six, this survey enlisted a crew at least twice as large. At Beaver Creek, the water was fairly clear and near fifty degrees, and the stream was rocky and turbulent. Otter Point Creek was very murky and slow-moving with a much higher temperature. The creek was deep and had slippery clay banks and deep mud towards the center of the creek. Had I not been wearing waders, I definitely would've lost a shoe or two. Electrofishing seemed more treacherous than ever as we dragged a very small "cataraft" with a generator and plugs for each of the four connected anodes that Andrew and his crew swept back and forth in front of them. Each of us carried nets and snatched every fish we came into contact with, including several eels (a few of which I witnessed disturbingly snacking on one another in my bucket), redbreast sunfish, pumpkinseed and a white catfish to name a few. The crew counted the numbers of each different species we collected in an effort to determine the health of Otter Point Creek as compared to previous years. Similar surveys are preformed on creeks and streams around Maryland. To learn about these surveys, you can visit Maryland Biological Stream Survey.
This week, I was extremely excited to have received so many invitations to shadow and assist so many different, influential people in a field which I would love to be a part of one day. Thanks to everyone who brought me along and patiently taught me so much!