Last month, a federal research vessel of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), called the William E. Ricker, had the opportunity to survey aquatic life in the Strait of Georgia using technology that would enable it to monitor for fish life in varying levels of the water – from the seabed up to the surface. This expedition was novel in that standard shipboard research cruises in the Strait of Georgia have never before accomplished this at the same place during the same day.
Vancouver Aquarium research scientist Dr. Jeff Marliave had the chance to accompany a group of volunteer scientists aboard this vessel. This was a unique opportunity to use the full capabilities of the research vessel, which has two different winch drums to operate a bottom trawl in succession with a midwater trawl. The vessel’s crew was busy wrestling cables and nets onto the winch drums while the volunteers were fully absorbed in the frenetic activity of sorting and processing catch under the watchful guidance of DFO Chief Scientist Dr. Dick Beamish.
With one tow, the chief scientist, skipper, and fishing-master all converged on deck where an “overcatch” of spawning hake was swamping the deck. These hake had been caught off Cape Lazo (Comox) in a midwater layer (just above a layer where spawning walleye pollock had been encountered).
The fact that there were hake caught in this area was a noteworthy discovery because there had been concern that Pacific hake were no longer the dominant fish in the Strait of Georgia. However, these three days of surveying demonstrated that the hake were extremely abundant, but had changed their major spawning area from around Halibut Bank (Sunshine Coast) to the northern Strait of Georgia (Comox).
This is important because hake are both a key predator species and a key food species in the Strait of Georgia ecosystem. Praise is in order for the ingenuity of Dr. Beamish in getting a group of volunteers out with available ship time to conduct unique sampling that led to discoveries such as this one.