Since Photography isn’t my day job and being an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer Student, it was finally time for the first time in a few years to get a Summer Job. Being located in Cape Breton and not really interested in working at a Call Centre… I ended up finding a position as an At-Sea Fisheries Observer. It’s been quite the experience and a great opportunity to put my trusty Olympus XZ-1 to good use after a period of neglect. There will be a couple iPhone shots included in here as well. So I will introduce a new segment on threemilesfinal.com called “100 Miles Out”. This is a bit of a different subject matter from what I normally post but don’t worry there will be more Aviation eventually!
My first deployment was to the “Cape Mariner 04″ from Petit-de-Grat, NS. This was my first time being to the Acadian Region of Cape Breton which was unfortunately obscured by a thick blanket of fog during my drive there.
We set out to Crab Fishing Area 23 and we got to work! Having a limited experience on the ocean as a kid, that was all within sight of land… going a hundred miles offshore was a whole new ballgame.
The Crews work hard and through all hours of the night hauling their gear. At a couple points looking up from gathering biological samples from my pan of Snow Crab it almost felt like an episode of “Deadliest Catch”. Thankfully I’m on the North Atlantic and not the Bering Sea…
It’s also really interesting to see the technology being used by the Fishermen. With OLEX and MaxSea systems combined with the usual Depth Sounders and GPS, they have amazingly detailed data on the bottom!
Thankfully upon our return to Petit-de-Grat the fog had lifted and presented the great views of the Acadian Cape Breton. It certainly looks like an area I will have to come back and spend some more time exploring.
After landing I spotted a red-and-white-striped blast from the past. A Coast Guard 44′ Lifeboat! Many an hour spent on one traveling to and from my home off northern Vancouver Island in the 1980′s so I had to grab a quick photo.
Next deployment was on the “Shirley & Philip” from Glace Bay, NS. This time was a departure during the daylight hours which was cool to see the area near my home from the other side.
There were many great views to be had during the downtime onboard. Other than the omnipresent diesel roar, cloud of cigarette smoke, colourful discussions and pitching of the vessel… you could squint your eyes to pretend you were on a Cruise Ship.
Finally I began to see the occasional “undirected species” appear in the traps. All of which are returned unharmed to the Sea as per regulations but it’s really neat to see them even if briefly before they go back to their domain.
The threatened Spotted Wolffish was the first creature I got to make acquaintance with. It is quite an intimidating fish with teeth you certainly don’t want to deal with! Their more common cousin, the Atlantic Wolffish is no less menacing. With one really making an effort to take a bit of me with it to the ocean bottom as I released it.
Sometimes you’d see a partially eaten Flounder or Redfish but the Wolffish always come up unscathed which is testament to their menacing personalities. If 300lb of Crab can’t take them on… you don’t want them around your vulnerable fleshy self very long!
Occasionally we would see another vessel working around the area. But it was few and far in-between! Although considering the side of the Fishing Area, I really shouldn’t be surprised.
But I’ve been fortunate enough that there were also a lot of Cetaceans in the area on most of my trips to CFA 23. Dolphins, Whales and Porpoises were all spotted while we were out.
Next I was deployed on the “Thankful Too” out of historic Louisbourg, NS. I still haven’t been to the Fort but this time I’d get a look from the water.
This time we were greeted by a pod of Common Dolphin and numerous Pilot Whales which makes for something interesting to watch on the nearly full day steam to our gear location.
As a part of the issues that arise from time-to-time for Crab Fishermen is tangled and snarled gear. Mainly due to the fact that every trap has usually around 150 fathoms (275m / 900′) of rope attached to them. Sometimes traps set too close get wrapped up from the shifting tides.
And a short video of us heading back to Louisbourg in the 35kt of wind… Nice and brisk!
Once again from Glace Bay I was deployed but this time it was on the “Atlantic Sunset”. It was a wildly unexpected Six Degrees of Separation moment when I discovered that the Skipper’s Cousin was in the Canadian Forces with my Father. You never know who you’re going to meet out there in this small World of ours!
Also no less than twenty minutes after discussing previous sightings of Killer Whales with the Skipper, we were treated to a sight of a few Orcas!
This trip was also amazing for weather on our steam back to Port. As the Crew finished filling up with Snow Crab by the mid-afternoon on the second day so I had some time to absorb the infinity that is the North Atlantic.
You can really see why people spending long amounts of time at sea did things like scrimshaw, play cribbage or write. Or in my case, try to find photographs in the same confined space for four days. I’m no Chris Hadfield but being over-the-horizon really is almost like being on another planet. Instead of a multi-billion dollar Space Station… I have a 50′ fibreglass diesel-powered Space Ship with the benefit of only needing oil gear and lack of that no-Gravity issue.
Occasionally there will be a visitor to the deck to see what we’re doing. The very curious Gulls will perch close by looking very hungry!
Finally in my fifth and most recent deployment was to the “Lady Alicia” also sailing from Louisbourg. This vessel was a lot different than the others due to it being primarily a Shrimp Dragger so it was smaller, deeper and more cramped than the very wide purpose built Crab Boats.
This trip was also different as it was my first excursion out into Crab Fishing Area 24 which is further south and inclusive of Sable Island.
Immediately it was interesting to see the difference in undirected species that appeared in traps. First was a Northern Stone Crab… a devilish looking crustacean. When it was dumped from the trap it was on top of the pile and quickly started to strut out looking for a fight. The Fishermen tell me that once a King Crab is in the trap that the Snow Crab will no longer enter due to the crabs being very territorial. After a quick estimation of weight it was released.
The Sea Cucumber and Whelks that also came up were something that I hadn’t seen appear in any of the sets from further North. Adding to the complication of my duties was that this particular vessel was re-locating all of its gear from CFA23 to CFA24 so they were stacking every trap on the already limited deck space.
I can tell you that before now I had never seen 14,823m (8100 fathom / 48,600′) or 14.8 KILOMETRES of rope at once. It’s rather amazing and unwieldy amount to say the least!
So that pretty much sums up my first five deployments as an At-Sea Fisheries Observer. Every couple trips I’ll add to the 100 Miles Out series so stay tuned!