David G Brown, Student Technican
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Posted on July 1, 2011 | Permalink
Student Technican Experience - Week 1
I had a very busy first week working as a student technical assistant for the Fisheries Service. On Monday Cameron, Ashley, and I got to accompany Steve Vilnit on a charter boat out of Cambridge. Steve took several chefs on the boat to show them about Maryland crabs and oysters and the process it takes to get them from the water to the restaurants. The boat left shore at around 9am and right away we got to watch some waterman operate their trot lines. Shortly after that we spotted the Robert Lee, an Oyster Recovery Partnership boat, we caught up with them and witnessed them distribute spat on to an oyster reef. Spat are baby oysters that are very small, maybe a few millimeters in length. The process of getting the mountain of oyster shells with spat onto the reef was fascinating. To get the shells off the boat, they had to pump water onto the deck and float the shells off. They couldn’t just spray or shovel them off because that might kill or knock off the spat from the shells which would in turn kill them. After watching the process for a while, we headed out to the Horn Point Lab for a tour, the place where the Oyster Recovery Partnership grows the spat. It was a good sized facility that had 52 tanks where they raised the oyster larvae until the larvae grew to become spat on the aged oyster shells. The spat are raised in those tanks until they become big enough to go out on the reefs. Following our trip to the lab, we were taken to Claytons picking house where we observed the workers pick the crabs and the packing system. The pickers picked the crabs unbelievably fast and with little waste. After we watched the pickers, we were guided to the room where the crab meat is canned. The pasteurized crab meat was canned by this old machine that only canned about 80 cans a minute. Once the crab meat is pasteurized and canned, the meat will stay good and still taste fresh for at least 18 months. We actually got to try some of the canned crab meat compared to the just picked meat and you couldn’t tell the difference. That was the last stop for the day so we all headed home. All in all, it was a very informative first day.
On Tuesday I helped Chris Judy, Chris manages the Marylanders Grow Oysters Program. We counted the spat that was on the oyster shells he collected from cages that people hang off their piers to help raise oysters . Chris Judy works for the Shellfish Program and he took me and another intern out on a boat in the Tred Avon River to count the spat that was on oyster shells. We had to count how many live oysters, boxes, and scars were on each shell. A box is a dead oyster who’s shell has opened up and a scar is a mark on the parent oyster shell that shows that there was a spat there but the spat died and fell off. We counted 10 five liter samples of the oysters that came out of the cages and we also dredged some oysters off the reef and counted 10 five liter samples of those too. The system we had was two people would count what they found on the shell and one would record what they found. I counted for a while but I volunteered to record the data because I was a little slow at counting. We also wrote down the lengths of 30 random spat per sample, and when we came upon a natural oyster we would write down the size of them too. From the oysters that were in the cages we discovered a lot of live oysters, sometimes 15 or 20 on a single shell, but we also found a good amount of boxes and scars. The oysters that we dredged from the reef had a good amount of live oysters but not as many as the caged oysters, and more boxes and scars than the caged oysters. Altogether, I think we found a good ratio of live spat to dead.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Cameron and I went out to Beaver Creek in Washington County to help John Mullican and a few other biologist’s electro fish for brown and rainbow trout so they can do a population study. This was my first time electrofishing and it was a great experience. The way the operation worked was we had two people carrying the buckets to store the fish, three or four netters, and one or two shockers depending on how big the part of the creek was where we were fishing. Cameron and I were the ones carrying the buckets but we also had a net in the other hand so we were able to catch a few fish that the netters missed. We electro fished four parts of the creek, two areas each day, and we had to sweep each area three times to make sure we got most of the trout. After we swept the creek three times, the biologists would sedate the fish and weigh and measure them. The creek we were electrofishing was Beaver Creek which is a unique creek in the fact that it is spring fed so the water temperature stays warm enough all year so the trout there grow faster and year round. We caught a lot of trout, mostly brown trout but a few rainbows and even some wild rainbows that I hear are pretty rare. In a few deeper areas we caught so many fish in one pass that we had to stop not even half way to empty out our buckets. On the first day, we caught 98 trout and a few of them were pretty large. On Thursday we caught a 20 inch brown trout and a few wild rainbows but not as much as the first day. It was a fun experience and I got to learn a lot about trout and the habitat they live in.