Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef Expedition 2012
Mission Information

Wednesday: May 16, 2012
Log Day 2

Andy David
NOAA Fisheries Service

Divers use net to remove fish from chevron trap

Divers use net to remove fish from chevron trap
(Photo: Greg McFall)

Four divers from the NOAA Fisheries Laboratory in Panama City, FL participated in one component of the 2012 Gray's Reef expedition. These divers helped capture and tag several species of reef fish for a fine scale movement study. Small acoustic transmitters were surgically implanted in the gag, scamp and black sea bass. The signals from these transmitters are picked up by a series of stationary receivers, the relative signal strength of the signal detected on multiple, time-synchronized receivers allows for highly precise location data to be collected from each fish. The goal is to determine the ranges and movement patterns of the reef fish.

Divers record fish statistics before release

Paul Barbera (l), Chris Gardnew (c) and Sarah Fangman (r) record fish statistics before release
(Photo: Greg McFall)

The process of tagging the fish is not complex however performing the entire process on the bottom of the ocean adds several complications. The first step was capturing the fish, we tried several styles of nets without much success, however the large chevron fish traps deployed on the first dive quickly collected several of the target species. The next step was extracting the fish from the traps, this was accomplished by placing large nets over the doors in the traps and enticing the fish through the doors with 'tickler' sticks. Once a fish was safely in the bag, it was inverted and securely held by two divers. A third diver with experience in underwater fish surgery made a small incision, implanted the tag in the fish's abdomen, and sutured the wound shut. The fish was then measured and released.

Steve Matthews stands guard during fish surgery

Steve Matthews stands guard during fish surgery
(Photo: Greg McFall)

During this process another diver was on the lookout for unwelcome visitors (sharks) which might have been attracted to the operation and might have ruined the party. While at least one large shark made its presence known, none became a problem.

The fish surgeon was Paul Barbera, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. The divers from Panama City were Guy Davenport, who also happens to be the Laboratory Director at the facility, Chris Gardner, a fishery biologist, Andy David, a research fishery biologist, and Steve Matthews, a fishery methods and equipment specialist.

Scamp grouper resting under ledge after surgery

Gag grouper resting under ledge after surgery
Photo: Greg McFall

The Panama City divers were impressed with the size and number of reef fish at the study site in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary. We are accustomed to seeing this species at our sites in the northern Gulf of Mexico, but the size of the fish off Georgia and their lack of fear of divers was surprising. Water conditions were good with slight currents, reasonable water temperature, and good visibility. Using the Sanctuary's vessel, the RV Joe Ferguson, as a dive platform made for a smooth and professional operation.


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