2015 Summer Internship Program
FISHPAC and the 'Big Fish': Using Sonar as a Lower-Impact Method to Model Habitat in the Bering Sea
I am very grateful to have been given this internship experience through JISAO and NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) this summer. For the duration of the nine-week program, I worked with LT(j.g.) Theresa Smith and Dr. Bob McConnaughey in the Habitat Research Group of the Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering (RACE) division of AFSC. As a dual degree undergrad at Seattle University studying Environmental Science and Business Economics, I was already at home in Seattle, but everything else about the experience was new and exciting. Even with a strong scientific background, I knew very little about the work that the Habitat Research Group does.
The first part of my internship was spent researching the literature and expanding a database of resources on the effects of mobile fishing gear (i.e. commercial trawling and dredging) on benthic (seafloor) habitats. We intend to publish this updated bibliography in the next year, both in hard copy and in an online, searchable database on AFSC’s website.
I spent the rest of my time working to support the Habitat Research Group’s other main project, FISHPAC. FISHPAC is an ongoing research project involving multi-disciplinary field experiments and data processing using various sonar technology and ground truthing equipment to map the seafloor (bathymetry and backscatter) and characterize the composition of the seafloor (e.g. sand, mud, gravel, reef, etc.) in Alaska’s wildly productive commercial fisheries. This information is compared to annual trawl survey data and, combined with other environmental data, is being used to develop models that explain the distribution and abundance of commercial marine fish species.
In particular, I helped to write a quick-start guide for the centerpiece technology of FISHPAC, the Klein 7180 Long-Range Sidescan Sonar (LRSSS), which is a prototype towed sonar device that produces very high quality data and improves the efficiency of seafloor mapping. Additionally, I helped with logistics and operations during Sea Trials of the FISHPAC equipment in mid-August. These trials ensure that all the complex systems of the experiment are ready for operations during the planned 2016 cruise in Alaska.
Overall, I had a great experience working for AFSC this summer. I gained invaluable research skills, namely the extensive literature review process for the mobile fishing gear effects database, as well as a deep understanding of how large research projects operate. I would like to give special thanks to my mentors, Theresa and Bob, all of the Habitat Research Group, Lloyd Huff, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (Keyport Division), the USNV Discovery Bay crew and, of course, all of JISAO for supporting my experience this summer, especially Dr. Tom and Linda Ackerman and Jed Thompson.
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