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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

In a Seattle state of mind.

I traveled to Seattle for a few days between my last post and this one. This was my first visit and according to the locals I was there during a stretch of especially nice weather, sunny with temps in the 60's and 70's. Indeed, I expected more rain and Starbucks.

My work required staying on a ship which did not sail anywhere. The ship was docked in the port of Seattle next to massive fishing trawlers that were so huge that I did not take a picture because I knew I could not do justice to their size. My colleague on this trip, John Mitchell, wondered at the biomass these trawlers take out of the sea.

One of the trawlers in port was the SS Ocean Phoenix. At 680 feet long, it is as long as city block. I don't know how tall it is but 10 stories at the highest point above the pier feels about right to me. It can hold 4,200 tons of what its owner Pacific Premier calls product or the all the different forms of Pollock it fishes and processes. I suppose this helps answer the question about biomass.

With numbers like these, I better understand the pressure this could put on an ocean fishery. I have never really liked fish but after hearing of the overfishing of our oceans I am less likely to eat it. I now only eat fish if I know where it comes from which usually translates as someone I know has caught it. For those that enjoy seafood, there are apps to help you eat in good conscience. I've heard good things about the Seafood Watch app from Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Overfishing is a thing. I learned this on my Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship expedition when we stopped at Siglufjörður, home of the Herring Museum. The town was the site of a herring processing plant until the fishery collapsed due to overfishing in the early 1960's. The fishery never recovered and the town lost its livlihood. The fishermen were convinced that they knew the herring better than the scientists.

And to be clear, I don't know if Pacific Premier or the SS Ocean are complicit in overfishing. But after seeing these trawlers I have a much better idea of how overfishing happened. My hope is that Pacific Premier and all sea food companies are part of a movement to establish aggressive management of fisheries.

Alarm about trawler size and overfishing aside, I enjoyed my time on ship. Even though the ship didn't sail, it still moved after a fashion, rising and falling with the tide. When I went to bed at night I was eye level with the bottom of the pier (my cabin was on the second to lowest level). When I awoke the next morning, I could see under the pier and by mid day the barnacles were exposed on the pier pilings.

Twice I saw a heron that liked to perch on the rocks under the pier.  I dithered about this because what if the tide came up quickly and the heron got trapped under the pier? Can herons swim under water?

This did not happen the two days I observed the heron. Like I said, I dithered.

But back to the barnacles.

I have noticed how the barnacles stop attaching at certain rung on the pier ladder in the picture. There are a few scattered individuals above that line but the demarcation between good barnacle habitat and not good barnacle habitat is pretty clear.

I don't know enough about barnacles to explain what makes a good habitat and what doesn't. If I'd had more time to just observe barnacles and do nothing else, I probably could have developed a working explanation. Instead, it will remain a mystery until I either return to a place with barnacles or get a chance to look it up. Past experience has taught me to leave plenty of time for such work because a quick internet search can turn into an hours long self-created mini-course.