Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Maine DIFW Regional Wildlife Biologist Intern Week 4

February 6 - February 12 "I appreciate the offer, but I'm working"

Finally, some fisheries work! Even though I'm primarily a wildlife guy, I've never done anything related to fisheries before and was hoping to get some good fisheries experience with this internship. So far, I haven't been let down.

Like the wildlife work, IFW fisheries work has its own 'bread and butter'; this primarily takes the form of creel censuses and lab work. Creel censuses are pretty straightforward; fisheries biologists go out onto bodies of water and take data on fish being caught by anglers. We'll approach them, ask them what fish they have caught, and if they have kept any, we ask to see them and gather data on them. We also give them the option of letting us take the fish. For the most part, people are pretty open to these things, and about half of the folks will let you take their fish. These are used for population estimates, and if they're taken back to the lab, they can be aged, dissected to determine eating habits, and more.

Ice fishing derbies are great for this, because our sample size gets a lot bigger. For those that aren't involved in the scientific field, a larger sample size means that we can make a better, more accurate guess as to what is going on (like whether the number of fish are growing or shrinking, if there's a disease that can cause some concern, if a fish species is dominating a lake, etc.). This past weekend, Sabattus Pond had hosted its own ice fishing derby, and so IFW was out in force to gather data (as well as to enforce laws in the form of eight Game Wardens).

Sabattus is notorious for its horrific ecological past. Through the 1900s, it was heavily polluted by a nearby poultry farm that resulted in major algal blooms in the pond, shutting down the beach on its south end and choking out the life within it. While that problem has been largely fixed now, it is now facing a new problem; it has been overrun by introduced pike (Esox lucius) and crappie (Pomoxis sp.).

As the intern, I had the pleasure of walking around tugging a little sled behind me with my equipment while my fellow biologists took the farther reaches of the pond with their snowmobiles. Eagles soared overhead, looking for forgotten fish on the ice (remember how often it is for eagles to starve from my first post?!).
It was pretty cold out there.

There were several hundred people on the ice at any given time; I was told that somewhere between 800 and in excess of 1000 had come through the derby entrance. I interacted with probably about 100 of them. There was a wide range in how people reacted; some were ecstatic and very kind, others were very cautious and seemed weirded out. Some people didn't even realize I worked for the state despite my uniform, which was especially apparent when I walked up to a group of teens who were talking about how they hadn't seen any wardens around so "it's not a problem" (I had no idea what they were up to, but it wasn't my job to enforce any law; I was just there to collect data and not cause a problem). It also became apparent with the amount of alcohol I was offered by overly nice fishermen, to which I always replied "I appreciate the offer, but I'm working." Most people were pretty understanding. It's good to know that people at least have a really high opinion of our state's biologists!

After gathering a full sled worth of pike, crappie, and perch, I tugged my loot to our trucks and met up with another biologist, an old coworker of mine from a diner in my high school years and a Unity grad. We took a quick spin over to check out the current standings for the derby; at the time that I left, the winning fish was 15.82 pounds. There were some pretty big pike coming out of that lake! (Although, I'm told that even bigger fish have come out of that lake before).
The winning fish of the day. The children's competition entries are the perch on the left.

These fish are dissected back at the office and data is gathered on what they've been eating, their weight, size measurements, and more. The cleithrum is taken from behind the gills (a bony plate that gives the gills some structure) and, once cleaned off in some boiling water, they can be used to age in a manner very similar to a tree; rings form throughout the cleithrum, with each ring representing an approximate year.

The fisheries lab.

Boiling the flesh off of a cleithrum so the rings can be seen.

This was just the start of my fisheries adventures, and I hope to get involved with more soon!

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