There’s no doubt being an intern on a ship in the Gulf of Mexico in the heat of summer counting and weighing fish was hard work, but it came with great rewards for Prairie State College Professor Angela Hung.
Hung’s nearly two weeks as a volunteer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) gave her new insights into the role of NOAA scientists dedicated to the health of fish populations, and an appreciation for those who work on the water.
A colleague at PSC shared information on the “Teacher at Sea” program with Hung, a biology professor and Homewood resident. NOAA has research stations around the country and as far north as Alaska.
Her first day or two was spent in port because of mechanical difficulties on the boat, but even that proved interesting for her as she talked with scientists and saw exhibits at the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center.
Once on board, Hung got a quick introduction to all things important about life on the water, and then the boat left from Pascagoula, Mississippi, out to sea to collect a sampling of fish using an otter trawl that gathered groundfish, living creatures at the bottom of the Gulf.
Although the ship was probably no more than two miles off shore, she couldn’t recognize the shoreline. They would drag the trawl allowing it to scoop up the fish that were dumped into a hold where Hung and others sorted the fish, counted the take and reported the varieties. Then each fish was weighed.
Hung explained that the work she did is part of an ongoing population survey. For the past 28 years NOAA has collected information and continues to feed it into a long-term data set. The information is used, in part, to check the health of the aquatic environment, set fishing regulations and fishing seasons.
In the Gulf of Mexico, there are numerous survey stations that are between five and 20 nautical miles apart, Hung explained.
“From one station to the next it is totally different. I was surprised by that,” she said. “At one station we had adult snapper and another a few miles south baby snapper, then a few miles down it was all shrimp.”
The schools of fish are also impacted by chemical runoff, mostly agricultural residue that pollutes the Mississippi River and is deposited in the Gulf of Mexico. Hung said the dead zone was pretty apparent to the crew when at one stop the trawl brought up just one shrimp and one snail.
Her classwork at PSC has included discussion of the dead zone. NOAA describes it as an area that stimulates massive algae growth that eventually decomposes and uses up the oxgen needed to support life in the Gulf. Loss of oxygen can cause the loss of fish habitat or force fish to move to other areas to survive. Hung said she will be sharing photos and her experiences in class.
“I walked away with a lot. I have an entire appreciation of everybody who works at this job, the entire crew of the boat. It’s a research vessel, so the captain, lieutenant, officers, fishermen, engineers are all operating the boat to help the scientists collect data and so it’s a whole scientific operation with people from so many different fields,” she said.
“I walked away with the appreciation that people still appreciate science, and I also learned a lot about NOAA resources. For fishery management, how many fish you can catch and where, all that comes from this kind of work. This survey also tells Texas when they can begin the shrimping season. So their work is tied in to all things seafood.”
She will be sharing her insights as the guest speaker for the Homewood-Flossmoor Science Pub. Her talk, “Do You Sea Food? A Midwestern Teacher at Sea,” will be given at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 25, at Ravisloe Country Club, 18231 Park Ave. in Homewood.