So far, the many citizen scientists helping us with our archive containing thousands of hours of video has been a great success! Digital Fishers has enabled hundreds of people, with a variety of experience levels, to participate in ocean science research. The video collected by Ocean Networks Canada during installation dives and from underwater cameras installed across the network is being reviewed by scientists and citizen scientists alike, helping us annotate data from the deep sea. You can annotate, or describe, the various objects and animals you see by selecting from the fields on the screen. Categories to describe include sea life, water clarity, seafloor composition, and any other objects you see (natural or human made).
Our first mission to have citizen scientists annotate trawl marks took place during May 2012. During these four weeks, over 3000 annotations were made from Digital Fishers in the United States, Canada, France, and Belgium. We look forward to taking a closer look at what our many volunteers uncovered about the biodiversity in this trawled area and reporting back with your findings. To continue to explore and understand the impacts from trawling, your new mission, should you choose to accept (and we hope you will!), is to investigate the sea bottom looking for trawl marks and a new feature: thornyhead rockfish.
This new mission, “Trawling, thornyhead rockfish & deep-sea ecosystems” is to investigate the impacts of trawling on deep-sea ecosystems on the mid-continental slope off the coast of Vancouver Island, BC. Bottom trawling is an industrial fishing method where a large weighted net with metal doors, weighing up to one tonne, is dragged along the ocean bottom scooping up everything in its path. Off the coast of Vancouver Island, the main target for bottom trawling fisheries on the mid-continental slope are thornyhead rockfish (Sebastolobus sp.). There are two species of thronyhead rockfish, the shortspine and longspine. These deep-sea rockfish are vulnerable to overfishing because they have a very slow growth rate, late maturity and a long lifespan, possibly more than 100 years. A 50% decline in the number of thornyhead fish caught per unit effort has been noticed over the past eight years. The Species at Risk Act (SARA) lists the longspine thornyhead variety under “special concern.”
Most rockfish are found in schools but thornyhead rockfish tend to be found in deep water habitats and may usually be observed resting on the soft sediment sea bottom. As fishing technology and capacity increases, bottom trawling activities can be carried out further offshore and in deeper waters; Fisheries and Oceans Canada estimates that the trawling footprint along Canada’s Pacific coast is over 38,000 km2. Currently, the size of the thornyhead population in this area is unknown. Your annotations will increase our data on species diversity, distribution in known trawling areas, and perhaps even increase our understanding of deep-sea ecosystems in response to human disturbance.
To become involved with the new mission, simply visit the project website. If you’re new to Digital Fishers, you can watch an introductory video to help you get started and then dive right in. For this mission in particular, you’ll need to keep an eye out for the bottom dwelling thornyhead rockfish as well as any trawl marks you might see on the seafloor. In addition to helping us fulfill this mission and provide invaluable information about bottom trawling, your annotations may help answer even more questions such as:
What environmental factors influence the distribution of species in the deep-sea?
What is the biodiversity associated with deep-sea environments?
How do species interact with each other and with their environment?
Digital Fishers was developed together with the University of Victoria’s Centre for Global Studies (CfGS) and funded by CANARIE. Co-investigator Dr. Rod Dobell leads the involvement of CfGS with additional support from eBriefings.ca.