In a Summer’s Time, a New Chapter Begins

It’s hard to believe the summer is already winding down. I had a wonderful time in Oregon and learned far more than I thought nine weeks could offer. From learning all the nearshore Rockfish species to the ins and outs of R and basics of statistical ecological modeling, I have gained a variety of technical skills that I’ll carry with me throughout my career in the marine sciences. Working at ODFW this summer has given me insight on what it’s like to work as a research fisheries biologist in a government agency and how important a biologist’s work is to fisheries management. After hours of testing and running models and decoding error messages in R, my data began transforming from a stream of numbers to a story. We found that hours from sunset had a significant impact on fish count data, and it was neither species nor location-specific. Using what is called a generalized additive model (GAM), we were able to show how all our variables interact with fish count data and suggest that there is no ecological benefit to conducting surveys at night. My work is part of a larger project the ODFW research team is working to complete, so I’ll likely be the author of a publication relatively soon!

On Friday, all the scholars came together to share their work and experiences working in various marine fields this summer. This final symposium consisted of short presentations followed by a poster session, and I would say it was one of my favorite parts of the summer. Seeing all the relevant, complex work people were part of reminded me just how powerful, inspiring, and intelligent our generation of rising scientists is. We have the power to be effective communicators and dissolve the barriers between science, policy, and human dimensions. We have the power to make change and show others the importance of protecting our oceans. I’m excited to see how all the scholars apply the knowledge they’ve gained this summer and where their experiences and passions will take them. A big thank you to everyone who supported me on this journey to the West Coast – it was a first, but it certainly won’t be a last.

Final symposium poster session

Final Results of the Mesocosms

In my last blog post, I introduced you to the excitement Newport offers outside of Hatfield Marine Science Center, but left you hanging on how the mesocosm project turned out.

We planned on running experiments three days in a row, leaving the mesocosms out in the field for the entire duration. We needed to collect over 360 juvenile Dungeness crab and over 18 Pacific staghorn sculpin, which proved harder than we expected. We quickly saw that we would need to adjust our study due to the natural progression of second instars growing into fourth or fifth instar crabs. The crabs were too large for the Pacific staghorn sculpins to eat, making it difficult to run a predation experiment. However, we realized that the large crab size could be a benefit as it would allow us to study the crabs’ behavior without any predation while also reducing a factor of loss when retrieving the crabs. This increase in crab carapace allowed us to reduce the number of crabs needed to 10 per mesocosm instead of 20, another benefit. We spent three days beach seining at low tide and setting minnow traps overnight to collect the necessary number of organisms.

Brett Dumbauld of USDA-ARS beach seining for juvenile Dungeness crab and Pacific staghorn sculpin in Yaquina Bay, OR.

Water tables in the EPA lab housing over 250 juvenile Dungeness crab and over 40 Pacific staghorn sculpin.

With all of the pieces together, we were able to move forward and set-up the mesocosms in the field to begin running experiments. The mesocosms were set the same as they had been during the first trial, each containing different combinations of two habitat types (on-bottom oyster aquaculture, eelgrass, open mud) in three controls and duplicated in three treatments.

An example of a mesocosm set-up. One side contains eelgrass, the other oysters placed to mimic on-ground oyster aquaculture.

We then prepared the Pacific staghorn sculpins by starving them for 24 hours before they were put in the field. We had previously decided that we would experiment with different lengths of time that the crabs were exposed to the sculpin to see if it had any effect on their behavior. We decided to begin one trial when the water was low enough that it wouldn’t be spilling over the top of the mesocosms (about 2.5′). This trial was run for 2 hours, wherein predators were left in the mesocosms. We then reset the trial by removing and counting predators and prey before adding more organisms for a 24-hour trial which we would come back to the next morning. As we approached the mesocosms that morning with the water just around the tops, we noticed them rocking back and forth.

NOOOO! How were we going to run our 24-hour experiment without the crabs and sculpins escaping? We ran back to Hatfield during our 2-hour wait period and brought back a drill and rebar to reinforce the mesocosms, hoping it would do. Since we already had the organisms prepared, it was best to run the 24-hour experiment and just see what would happen.

Kelly Muething and Anna Bolm clearing out the different habitats after a 24-hour habitat selection experiment involving juvenile Dungeness crab and Pacific staghorn sculpin, in Yaquina Bay, OR.

We had some pretty interesting results. In the 2-hour experiment, we retrieved 95% of the crabs while in the 24-hour experiment we retrieved 106% of the crabs. This was the opposite of what we expected since the mesocosms had been rocking, but apparently some other crabs had run in rather than escape. Given that we only ran two trials, we can’t conclude any real results, but did see some patterns. Crabs preferred oyster shell over both eelgrass and open mud, whether or not there was a predator. The sculpins’ presence didn’t seem to have much impact on crab habitat selection, possibly because they had outgrown the sculpins’ ability to prey. All in all, the mesocosms were a success and Brett plans on using them again next summer, earlier in the crab season to test the second instars.

Last Friday, I presented my work and then participated in a poster session, a really rewarding experience. It felt good to share what I had been working on and I appreciated the exercise of thinking about how to communicate the project to others. It was also informative to see what the other Sea Grant scholars had been working on as well as converse with scientists about our work.

Poster shown on the mesocosms at Oregon Sea Grant poster session.

It’s been a really incredible summer living and working at Hatfield Marine Science Center. I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity and feel lucky to have had such wonderful mentors to work with. To celebrate the end of the summer and completing the final presentation and poster session, my husband guided me out on my first sea kayaking trip, exploring the sea caves beneath Cascade Head. Rising and falling with the swell is an incredible feeling, the water looking like hills around you. We watched a whale play about 100 meters away before heading into a cave. I have to say, it was pretty scary and amazing at the same time. Paddling into darkness with waves booming around you would spook anyone, right? It was cool seeing all of the birds nesting along the rock cliffs, Pacific sea nettles swimming around, and sea stars and anemone exposed at low tide. We also spotted some floating tubes which turned out to be squid eggs. All in all, the perfect end to a perfect summer and a reminder of how much we love the area. We’re hoping to move to Newport so I can continue volunteering and learning at Hatfield while looking for work.

Wrapping Up the Summer

Wow, how the last nine weeks have flown by me. To start this post, I want to present a sample of the analysis I was able to draw from the survey data. In terms of basic demographic data, 75% of the respondents were female and fifty percent of those surveyed lived outside of Oregon. Over ninety percent of people also identified as Caucasian. While my coworkers and I can tell you that an overwhelming percentage of those who visit Haystack Rock are Caucasian, in reality it is probably less than ninety percent – probably closer to 75-80%. Both this stat and the idea that three out of four visitors are female might be attributed to a few different factors. For one, I was the only person to conduct the survey, therefore I, myself, may have inadvertently introduced some bias. To counteract this and create a random sample pool, I should have asked others to also conduct the survey. We also receive visitors from all around the world so one possibility for the extreme difference could be those visitors who do not speak English as a first language may have felt timid about talking to me or taking a survey which was not in their primary language. Our organization has tried to increase our diversity with the hiring of an inclusivity coordinator who has translated some of our brochures and information into Spanish while also running a program which allows people to check out beach wheelchairs for free. The other piece of analysis I will touch on is just how much Haystack Rock is a family activity. When I first arrived and learned from other HRAP staff that we did have visitors who returned, it made sense to me, yet I did not comprehend the degree to which people return to the Rock. I found that more than 35% of tourists had visited the rock not just once, not just twice, not even five times, but ten or more times! Reading through the comments and having conversations with people from areas all over the US, I came to learn that many people have returned to Haystack Rock year after year. Some have family reunions here every year, some live in Washington but make the trek down at least once a summer, but all felt a connection to the Rock.

To share the demographic data from the survey with our partnering organizations, I created an easy-to-read infographic.

It is this connection that I think could be the key to protecting Haystack Rock and its inhabitants. People who have not visited in a few years are shocked by the drastic reduction in sea star population from even three years ago and many are clearly concerned by the fact that it is possible their children, or grandchildren, may not get to see the mosaic of sea stars that at one point painted the area. For humans to see what effect we have had on our environment is crucial to building a bridge towards conservation. A few, certainly the minority, citizens of Cannon Beach and Tolovana Park, as well as those who make the pilgrimage almost yearly, believe HRAP enforces too much. In their mind, if we do not allow a child to see what happens when they poke a closed sea anemone, or look at the underside of sea star, or look for nudibranchs on their own instead of an interpreter pointing one out to a child – all of which they would have done as a child before HRAP was established – we are stunting their growth and inhibiting their naturally curious side. I choose to tell the visitor that if we do not recognize that the ways of the past have left us where we are today, and if we do not learn from the past’s mistakes, we are bound to repeat them. This aside, I am constantly amazed at the number of guests who do want to see the puffins, as well as their avian and aquatic neighbors, thrive at Haystack Rock.

Personally, this summer has been incredible. It was the first time I was more or less living on my own, while simultaneously working my first 9 to 5 job. I learned how to cook with modest supplies…and not have a dining hall to bail me out when I was not in the mood for cooking. For the most part, the food I made was pretty good, and I believe I did a decent job crafting meals that covered most of the food groups. Given that I had a decent amount of down time after work and on the weekends, I had to figure out what to do. Hiking became my go to and I will sorely miss not having jaw-dropping hikes within a ten to fifteen minute drive of my place. Oregon never ceased to amaze me with gorgeous coastal views, dense coniferous forests that were shrouded in a heavy fog during my morning hikes, and colorful bridges (no, really, for a kid who has spent time in Denver and Miami, this last item was a highlight).

The view from Saddle Mountain on a clear day cannot be beat!

 

Crossing the Astoria-Megler Bridge and stepping foot in Washington was a summer highlight.

I have to mention my coworkers who made our small office a great deal of fun and could always make me laugh, while simultaneously teaching me crazy facts about marine life and just about anything else, too. My standards for professional conferences were significantly increased this summer when most of our staff traveled to Portland for a week at the Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators (NAME) conference. I had the opportunity to spend a week with amazing people from Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon, many of whom are (or were) educators in high school, universities, and community colleges. Both inside and outside of the conference that week, our boss, Melissa (who also happened to be the coordinator for the conference), ensured that we had a fantastic work environment, and there truly was never a dull moment. These people made the quiet Oregon coast a whirlwind of activity, engagement, and welcomed me to their community. I will miss them, every one of them, a lot.

This summer I was able to attend the NAME conference and learn what great work is being done in the area of marine education in the Pacific Northwest.

If someone asked me if they should apply and try to be a part of Oregon Sea Grant, I would emphatically say “yes” as it is a professional experience that teaches you so much and connects you with knowledgeable people, all while giving you the opportunity to spend a summer in a state that has more to offer in terms of unique culture (I am looking at you Portland Timber’s Army) and outdoor activities than can be completed in ten weeks.

One of the most energetic fan bases of any professional sport, in my opinion, is the Timber’s Army.

Until next time, Oregon!

 

Soaking in all things Newport

After realizing the summer was quickly slipping away, I spent the last three weeks exploring Newport and soaking in what it has to offer. There was a free screening of the documentary, Reluctant Radical, at the Newport Performing Arts Center followed by a Q&A with the director, Lindsey Grayzel, and the subject of the film, Ken Ward. The film offers the perspective of father and eco-activist Ken Ward by following him through: blocking the Shell icebreaker from leaving Portland Oregon, shutting down the U.S. tar sands oil pipeline, and the trial following his arrest. When framed by the fear of his son’s future given current oil consumption, Ward’s actions make sense. To view the film you can find or host a screening at https://www.thereluctantradicalmovie.com/ .

I also participated in the NOAA fish cutting party which was a huge success!! Three days were scheduled for fish processing but a great early turnout of volunteers cut the processing time in half. Over 1900 fish were processed, which included removing the stomachs and otoliths, as well tags and fin clips in some. While I have gutted and filleted fish before, searching for otoliths was a whole new challenge. Otoliths, tiny little ear bones the size of a sesame seed, slip from your tweezers in the blink of an eye escaping to a mess of brain and tissue. It was easy to become immersed in the search and all the more satisfying when the little piece was found, especially knowing the otoliths were being used to age the fish by counting growth layers like rings on a tree.

Up at a nearby café, Café Bosque, my roommate and I spent an evening with Ranger Ryan talking about marine debris along Oregon’s coast. He presented a slide show on the subject and then screened Chris Jordan’s Albatross the Film while providing commentary along the way. I am currently working on research outside of my Sea Grant project which investigates the presence of microplastics in seawater and zooplankton and it was nice to see the combination of art and science to help communicate such a hidden yet ubiquitous issue.

A photograph, inspired by Chris Jordan’s Albatross the Film, of a bird I spotted while walking along Nye Beach. The film documents the dying albatross population on Midway Atoll. Jordan dissects multiple birds to find their stomachs filled with plastics.

I went and checked out the historic Nye Beach neighborhood which was filled with live music. There was a band playing outside the Newport Visual Arts Center, another at the Taphouse at Nye Creek, and more at Nana’s Irish Pub! Nye Beach is a cute little area with a lot of shops and restaurants near the beach. I ended up taking my visiting family there for breakfast at Cafe Stephanie where we all had delicious breakfast burritos and complimentary scones.

I also finally made it to the Saturday farmers market with my roommate, where I stocked up on berries, salad, and tomatoes. There were so many good smelling food stands serving prepared food that next time I’ll have to remember to go hungry. Later that day, my roommate and I went crabbing on the public dock. We sat out in the sun, reading our books, and chatting with fellow crabbers for about four hours. We had some exciting catches of a couple Dungies that were just a little too small to keep. We ended up with 3 Red Rock crabs but realized we wouldn’t be around for dinner, so passed them along to our neighbors.

The crab that was JUST too small. My roommate Meg is to my left and a little helper who offered to throw it back for us.

While my brother and sister-in-law were visiting we checked out the Aquarium Village, then went for a hike in Wilder, followed by a beer at the nearby Wolf Tree Brewery, and topped it off with dinner in Nye Beach. It was a lot of fun showing them around and exploring new places at the same time.

Family fun at Aquarium Village, diving into the deep unknown.

I am currently soaking in a little more Newport by eating some clam chowder I made from cockles gathered in Yaquina Bay. I have to say, it was a lot of work shucking and cleaning the cockles, but it is the best clam chowder I have ever had and am already planning when I can get back out and harvest more.

In other news, my summer project is complete! We ran the last experiment on Friday, but you’ll have to wait until the next blog post for all of the details.

Me in my happy place, at Nye Beach.

 

The More You Know, The More You See

My research project consisted of gathering information on different types of guided experiences and their products/pricing along the Oregon coast. Specifically, I researched salmon charters, whale watching, and kayak tours in 15 coastal Oregon towns. There are three goals to my research: (1) to see what businesses are offering, (2) to see what their products and prices are, and (3) to determine the strength of their online marketing.All three of these goals come together to help us work towards one bigger one: to boost economic development along thecoast through sustainable tourism. One way to do so is through guided experiences, which includes any form of outdoor recreation that is led by a professional. These can include fishing charters, horseback riding, tidepooling, guided hikes, and master classes. 

When using a guide, clients definitely learn more than they would on their own. Guides know the area better than anyone and can point out wildlife and special features to the area; they’ll also ensure a fun and safe experience for everyone involved. By using professional guides, visitors are creating jobs in the area and encourage sustainable tourism. In turn, with a higher demand for guides, professionals will be encouraged to obtain higher certifications and more training to be more competitive in the industry.

I believe that the more you know, the more you see. If you’re more knowledgeable about a topic, you’ll have a greater appreciation for what you’re doing. And who knows more about outdoor recreation than the people who lead these experiences for a living?

Since my research is about guides and guided experiences, I was lucky enough to take a guided tour and experience what I had been researching. Dave Lacey, the owner of South Coast Tours LLC, took me and two other interns out on a Port Orford Ocean Wildlife Viewing Kayak Tour. Dave founded SCT in 2012, and they offer several types of guided experiences including kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, kayak fishing, and van tours. Along with his team of five other guides, Dave works hard to ensure the safety of his clients and to make sure they walk away smiling, having had a wonderful time on the tour.

When asked why people should choose to take guided tours instead of venturing off into the ocean alone, Dave referenced our specific tour saying, “There’s a lot to learn from somebody who has done it before, so you can show them some of those sea caves you might not notice, or the arch. If you didn’t know the arch was there, you might miss it. There’s that inside knowledge, plus [weather and ocean] conditions.” When asked about the highlight of his job, Dave added, “The best part is hearing you guys laugh and just the stoke you hear out there.”

As part of tour, Dave provided wetsuits, booties, and kayaks to each client. He discussed water safety and explained the basics of kayaking before we launched from the beaches of Port Orford. We paddled through Graveyard Point, Tichenor Cove, Nellies Cove, and through Hell’s Gate and back to the port.

Along the way, Dave was able to point out local seabirds which included brown pelicans, pigeon guillemots, cormorants, black oystercatchers, and common murres, as well as different types of kelp, how to eat them, and their importance to wildlife. We continued into a cove, where we found a group of 20+ harbor seals, many of them young pups. Dave explained how we should keep our distance and make sure we move slowly so that the seals do not get nervous and hurt themselves sliding off of a rock. We paddled around them and even had some come visit our kayaks!

We continued and saw caves and arches, but the water was too rough for us to paddle through; we were able to go through the arch on the way back, though. We kept paddling, with Dave pointing out wildlife such as barnacles, mussels, sea stars, and lion’s mane jellyfish. The highlight of our trip was on the return, where Dave spotted a whale’s spout in the port. We slowed down, and it was headed our direction! We took about a half an hour to watch the whale, as it emerged and dove back down right around our kayaks. Dave explained to us that this whale was likely part of the resident pod and feeding on the kelp beds below us. It was the highlight of my week! Dave even had a camera to take photos of us and videos of the wildlife to send to us.

Taking a tour with Dave was a great way to better understand the need for helpful, well-trained guides. During our interview, Dave said that he is always making sure that we are having a great time but is constantly thinking about our safety. He provided high quality equipment, ensured we were comfortable and confident, and was able to identify and teach us all about the local marine wildlife. Without a guide, we would not have had the same experience, especially as people new to the area. South Coast Tours offers wonderful guided experiences that practice sustainable tourism while ensuring happiness and safety to all participants.

Wishing That This Summer Never Ends

It is quite shocking that there are only two weeks left in the program until the cohort comes together one last time to present our research projects in Newport. My experiences this summer have forever created a place in my heart for Oregon, my Oregon Sea Grant family and my Oregon State University family. It has been quite a journey filled with new faces, exciting conversations, and unique outdoor adventures. Over the past several weeks, I have had the pleasure of expanding my OSU and academia network by continuing to seek out college readiness programs in the region. This expansion included a meet and greet encounter with Mr. Ed Young, a writer for The Atlantic, whose keynote speech about symbiosis and scientist’s life stories was beyond captivating. Plus, it was a bonus to have a signed copy of his new best-selling book…winning!!! I also had the pleasure of speaking to a group of Albany high school students participating in the OSU Upward Bound program about college opportunities and experiences. It was a little difficult to anticipate how interactive this audience would be, but to my delight they were very inquisitive and had quite a list of questions concerning topics related to financial aid, scholarships, tuition, and so on.

Even though my project has had some bumps in the road, I am thankful for being able to be a part of this project and to help OSU further carry out their mission of providing higher education opportunities to communities in need through diversity and inclusion initiatives. After several meetings and a lot of hard work, I have been able to design two new surveys for our project that will be administered to students and parents as part of the program objectives. Even though I will be leaving before the surveys and focus groups can be administered, I am glad that I was able to help contribute to this portion of the project in some way. Hopefully, I will still have the opportunity to visit the Siletz reservation before my departure and to attend their annual Pow Wow next weekend.

In the meantime, I have continued my exploration of Oregon with a stellar trip to Crater Lake where I watched the sunset and the sunrise with a couple of hours of sleep in the back of a Subaru. Two weeks ago, I went on the camping with the other OSG summer scholars and despite a little mishap we managed to have a great trip that involved hiking through an old growth forest, marionberry picking on a farm, and swimming in the Willamette river. Last weekend I managed to make my way to the Silver Falls state park where you can walk pass 10 different waterfalls along an 8 mile-loop trail that is simply spectacular! Afterwards, I went to Portland for a day to remember what it is like to be in a big city (I believe there has only been two weekends where I have not slept in a tent) and to eat some delicious ramen and read some books at Powell’s. If you do not know what Powell’s is…well you should know (if you are a true book lover)! To capture some zen before the hectic schedule that is about to ensue these last couple of weeks, I will be camping at Mt. Hood and taking in as much as Oregon has to offer while I can.

Have a great weekend everyone and go exploring!

P.S. I am FINALLY a proud tent owner and lifetime member of REI!!! ☺

My True Feelings Towards Work

This summer I’ve been a part of the Shellfish and Estuarine Assessment of Coastal Oregon (SEACOR) team, a program of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. This shellfish program conducts surveys to estimate bay clam abundance in estuaries on the Oregon coast, this summer’s field work is in Coos Bay. Recreational clamming is a popular activity amongst locals and tourists in Oregon, commercial clamming is sold mainly as bait for Dungeness Crab fishers, supporting livelihoods. Our work is to ensure that this fishery is sustainable by suggesting conservative quotas for commercial clamming and daily catch limits for recreational.

When I began as an intern I dove into field work, my first day consisted of basic boat operations (which I knew none of), dredging randomly computed GPS locations, and filling in data sheets of habitat characteristics. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks in I could see the big picture and importance of the work we were doing. As an intern I’ve been given opportunities to be a part of more than my teams immediate work, such as participating in an ODFW shellfish creel survey, a Cockle clam survey, shadowing water quality monitoring specialists, learning how the work and research ODFW does contributes to policy making, and community outreach events. That first day as an intern I could only see the clams and crabs in front of me, sorting them is only one component of it all.

One thing I can say with certainty about this internship is that I haven’t been bored. My hours are irregular, my work weeks are all different from the last, and something new occurs each day. Here are a few special and random memories that stick out to me from working with my team this summer:

  • A Hagfish swam by and my coworker dropped our equipment to catch and show me what a Hagfish was and how interesting they are
  • I used the first aid kit’s binoculars to ogle at bald eagles
  • Sitting in the warm sun, cleaning eelgrass, listening to reggae, and talking about our favorites movies
  • Seeing my first adult Dungeness Crab
  • Swimming from the boat to an RV park to use their porta potty
  • Driving a boat for the first time, traveling a whopping 5mph yet being so nervous to do so
  • Learning how to tie a bowline knot which took me many tries
  • Watching one unfortunate Sand Shrimp be the most popular attraction in the shellfish touch tank

I have two weeks left in Oregon and I’ve begun to think how much I will miss my team, Coos Bay, and the work I’ve been given. The employees I’ve had the pleasure to work with at ODFW are genuine, lively, and hardworking people. I don’t get sick of being on a boat with them 5-10 hours a day, they’ve made me realize it may be hard to find a job where I am as happy to be at work as this one. I am so lucky to have been accepted as an Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholar.

Charleston Charters

For my summer project, I’ve been working on the curriculum development of the Guide and Outfitters Recognized Professional program, also known as the GORP program. The purpose of the GORP program is to create an educational standard for guides and increase the professionalism of guiding. This way, guides who go through the program can better market themselves to their visitors and help them get more out of their experiences. At this point in the summer, I have finished most of my work on the curriculum aspect and am now starting to interview guides to learn more about what the profession and how the GORP program may help them.

Charleston is well known as a small town with beautiful views of the marina and excellent fishing. The best way to experience fishing in the area is going out with one of the three charter companies. I got to meet with two charters and learn about their owners, and what makes each business so special.

Captain John Blanchard single handedly runs Sharky’s Charters. John started as a commercial fisherman but decided to switch to guiding and has lead charters for four years now. He is the only captain, and takes out smaller groups of 4-6, which is a great way to get more valuable one-on-one instruction. When asked what his favorite part of being a guide was, he said that he likes meeting people and forming friendships with his customers, who frequently return for fishing trips. He also loves sharing his passion with others and remarked “If you do what you love, you don’t work a day in your life”.

Kurt Smith is one of the two captains at Betty Kay’s Charters and has about 18 years of experience. He will be taking over as owner of the company in the upcoming months. Kurt takes pride in his charter company’s commitment to customer service and making sure that every customer has a fun trip and great experience. He thinks that the value provided by hiring a guide is immeasurable, as they have all the “local insight” and know where the fish are better that any visitor could figure out on their own. Betty Kay’s is able to accommodate larger groups and more people depending on trips, fitting about 20 passengers on a boat.

One of the universal factor of fishing charters is they are entirely weather dependent. If the ocean is too rough or winds are too strong, they must cancel charter trips for that day, so it is important to be flexible when hiring a charter company. If you or someone you know is interested in fishing in the Charleston area, try giving one of the local charter companies a call!

OSG Summer 2.0: Interviewing Fishers along the Oregon Coast

On Thursday, July 12th, my mentor Dr. Beth Marino and I joined a virtual meeting. I had high hopes; for four weeks I had been waiting to hear if I had approval to conduct my primary research project, which was to interview fishermen up and down the Oregon coast. The work I had been doing up until this point was constructive for my own understanding of coastal attitudes and was applicable to the broader goals of the Human Dimensions Project of the ODFW Marine Reserves Program, but it didn’t feel like something I could own. Granted, the results of this well-being survey, which no doubt I will outline in my final blog post in a couple of weeks, fascinate me because they get to the root of how people think. They reveal the lenses by which people view the world, and the thought processes they engage in when confronted with change. I invested the time in making sense of these responses, but I was not involved in the initial process of helping those responses emerge.

This distinction is important to me because other than being a scientist, I am also an artist, a dancer. Creating and leaving my own mark on the world is a part of my character. This is why I was itching to get started on what I was brought to Oregon to do in the first place: to help stories be heard.

On Thursday, July 12th, we were virtually meeting with a member of Oregon State University’s Institutional Review Board who would decide if the revisions associated with my involvement in Beth’s project could adequately protect the confidentiality of the interviewees. Already a week delayed, we thought this would be the day. But not quite.

I had an interview lined up for the next day that I had to reschedule (which, in retrospect, was for the better–I wasn’t prepared for a daylong road-trip, despite my eagerness).

So I waited until Monday while Beth meticulously worked at getting the project revision approved. Noon ticked by, and I still hadn’t heard. One fisherman was ready to meet 45 minutes away, and I was just waiting to have the go ahead.

I got the text message at 4 pm. And the rest of my summer began.

Me with my trusty state-owned Ford Fusion, which has helped me travel approximately 200 miles up and down the coast to conduct interviews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Without hesitation I gathered my recording equipment, hopped into the state car, and was on my way to Depoe Bay. My first interview exceeded all expectations: the fisherman I spoke with was very open about his responses, could see the world from multiple perspectives, and had a rich understanding of both his community and the biological world that his work depends upon. We had conversations about the marine reserves, management practices, conservation, and his life as a fisher…all of which lasted for 1 hour and 40 minutes (for perspective, we anticipate good interviews to last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours). I drove back home beaming, for I felt like this was the type of work I was meant to do.

The next interview was two days later and 80 miles north of Newport in a beautiful place called Garibaldi. To hear my first impression and thoughts right after rolling up to the coffee shop, watch this video.  Garibaldi is situated in a beautiful slice of the Oregon coast right where the ocean pours into a freshwater valley. The neighboring town is Tillamook, famous for their dairy products, and while driving back I got the chance to briefly check out what the town is so famous for.

The Great Northern Railway stationed in Garibaldi, right outside of the coffee shop where I conducted my interview, with a smokestack in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My second interview was entirely different from the first; this fisherman was a fourth generation fisher, and his sons and grandchildren are continuing the culture. His operation runs from Alaska to California and they catch everything from salmon to Dungeness crab. This hour and 20 minute long conversation, which touched on the same themes as before, went in entirely different directions–especially with respect to conservation and management. Being involved in multiple states, he noted that he felt a difference in how management and policy-making decisions were handled in Alaska versus Oregon. Though the “Oregon Way,” or the culture of public inclusion in government decision-making, is perceived as prevalent in Oregon, this fisher suggested that based on the model of Alaska there is room for improvement. He wished managers had more of an open door to those involved in commercial resource industries.

These interviews are intended to measure the impacts of the marine reserves on people in the commercial and charter fishing community, but this point illustrates how these conversations can be applied to issues beyond the marine reserves. They aim to represent a voice not typically heard, and so long as they are representative of the fishing community as a whole, these words can be used to inform management practices and policy. Local knowledge from fishers about the ocean itself can help scientists design more effective studies.  These conversations can open the door to more constructive dialogues about how we as humans relate to our environment.

Some fantastic rock formations in Tillamook Bay, captured while standing next to the railroad tracks along the waterfront.

So far, these fishers have expressed that they want responsible management. They advocate for science that supports their livelihoods. They want more research. They don’t all see eye to eye on every issue, but as far as I have heard, science is not the enemy.

This is just the beginning for me, and I am sure that I will interview people with more divergent opinions than my own. And it will be a challenge for me to steer the conversation in the right direction, but I am confident that I will be able to do it. Divergent opinions, as long as they don’t harm other people, I believe are healthy for society. I love listening to how other people see the world, with a grain of salt. And sometimes, beautiful narratives emerge.

When I was first being trained by Beth, she was telling me and my other mentor, Dr. Tommy Swearingen, about an interview she had just completed that had brought her to tears. She told me that there is something about the openness of the interview environment that allows people (both the interviewee and the interviewer) to divulge stories that in typical settings wouldn’t be discussed. On my fourth interview in Newport, I experienced a genuine, moving moment like this. I asked him if his life as a fisherman was fulfilling, and as he spoke I could tell he loved his line of work. He said every morning he got up at 4:30 am, made his black coffee, made plans for the day, and couldn’t wait to venture out on the boat. I wish you could have heard him say this, for I could feel his joy and it made my eyes blur. He loves this life.

I get paid to be moved by the stories of others. I cannot be more grateful that this is how I am spending my summer.

The Newport bridge, which I cross on my journeys. I wonder where I will go next?

Developing Models and a Connection with the Coast

After timeless weeks of video review, the time has come: data analysis. I am comparing species richness of rockfish, lingcod, and cabezon between daytime and nighttime lander footage at two sites on the Oregon coast, Siletz Reef and Seal Rock. Preliminary statistical analyses thus far indicates that species richness is higher during the day, which has important implications on the overall project. Chartering vessels for lander surveys would be more economical conducted as a 24-hour operation. However, because we are seeing species richness decrease at night, this difference could seriously affect the development of a fisheries-independent index. While chartering vessels in the daytime hours only may be more expensive for the agency, it will yield a more accurate index. The empirical data I’m compiling will be an important asset in decision-making as ODFW further develops their landers.

I have been using the terms “day “ and “night” loosely, so it is important that I define the time variable in my study. In fact, I started my analysis with time being separated into two elements, hours before sunset, day, and hours after sunset, night. After running a couple tests, I actually found that defining time continuously as hours since sunset provides a better model for the dataset. Developing this model also shows that our count data varies significantly ±2 hours of sunset. I will be conducting more analyses, running more models, and finding the best ways to present my findings in the coming weeks in preparation for the Sea Grant Summer Scholars Final Symposium.

Exploring the cliffs along the Oregon Coast Highway (photo by Illianna Termuehlen)

Although I have been spending a great deal of time learning the coding/programming language R for statistical computing and graphics, life here for me in Oregon is not restricted to videos, data, and coding. I’ve had many opportunities to explore the beauty of the Oregon coast, venturing up the famous Oregon Coast Highway, viewing wildlife from breathtaking cliffs, and camping in state parks. I’ve also had the chance to meet and spend time with a wonderful community of people here in Newport, some scientists, but other locals who are fishers, surfers, students, and artists. The Oregon coast is one of a kind, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of my time here has in store.

A group of Black Oystercatchers in Depoe Bay (photo by Dani Hanelin)