What’s below the surface

Andrew Robinson
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MUN event looks at past, present, future of ocean resources

All three speakers at Thursday’s Marine Institute event in St. John’s focusing on the past, present and future of ocean resources agreed the ocean climate is changing. The question is, how will that change affect resources below the surface?

While there may not have been a concrete answer presented, several ideas were thrown around, with details offered on how technology may help people learn about the ocean in the years ahead.

George Rose, director of the Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research at the Marine Institute, focused on the fishery, and said recent media coverage of the 20th anniversary of the cod moratorium took on an unnecessarily negative tone.

“Unfortunately, this total negativity about the fishery doesn’t match the reality of the data.”

Mr. Rose, while admitting the fishery is not what it once was, said there have been positive developments over the last two decades in the snow crab and shrimp fisheries.

However, recent data shows shrimp and snow crab stocks are declining, a development that’s not helped, he said, by rising water temperatures at sea.

“Something big is happening again.”

Sponsored by The St. John’s Telegram, the two-hour event was held as part of Memorial University’s ‘Havin’ A Time: Reunion 2012’.

Alternatively, plankton serving as the bottom of the food chain in the ocean is increasing, news Mr. Rose considered to be encouraging. He suggested capelin are also rebounding, and larger in size, as is the case with cod.

For all three ocean dwellers, Mr. Rose said warmer seawater temperatures would likely prove beneficial to further growth, as is likely the case for groundfish.

Latching onto Mr. Rose’s call for a continued focus on fisheries science, Randy Gillespie said technology will be needed to continue to allow ocean researchers to do their work. Mr. Gillespie is the director of the Centre for Applied Ocean Technology at the Marine Institute.

During his lecture, he discussed the use of multibeam echo sounder technology, which allows for physical mapping of the ocean floor.

“It’s a fairly new technology which allows us to see the seabed of the ocean environment in unprecedented detail.”

“Something big is happening again.” – Scientist George Rose

Mr. Gillespie said ships using the technology can take upwards of 250 million measurements per day. He noted while it can conduct detailed mapping work, it still has trouble mapping areas closer to shore.

This is because ships that travel too close to shore run the risk of striking the bottom.

Mr. Gillespie also spoke at length about ocean monitoring technology, in particular the use of automatic identification systems (AIS), a form of technology that’s beginning to replace radars.

AIS can track detailed information on vessels.

Mr. Gillespie said the technology is being tested in Placentia Bay, an area where its capabilities can be put to good use, given the region hosts a robust fishing sector and Vale Inco’s commercial nickel processing facility in Long Harbour.

MUN research professor and seabird expert Bill Montevecchi talked about tracking seabirds and their role as an indicator of marine health. He said the seabird population is rising, and the cod moratorium may be partially responsible.

He said in the past, many seabird fatalities were linked to the fishery with birds often becoming tangled in nets. Surprisingly, he said, the rise in the seabird population has coincided with a general decline in the capelin population over the last two decades – seabirds are known to feed on capelin.

However, Mr. Montevecchi said concerns remain about how increased offshore oil and gas activity affects the seabird population, largely because experts have not been able to gain the necessary access to information.

“Better information leads to better decisions, and we can’t get it.”

St. John’s Telegram

Organizations: Marine Institute, Fisheries Ecosystems Research, Applied Ocean Technology

Geographic location: Placentia Bay, Long Harbour

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