This May 2012 photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Seahorse, the latest and most sophisticated version of the marine habitat mapping camera system, HabCam, being loaded onto the University of Delaware research vessel Hugh Sharp at the dock in Lewes, Del. The apparatus was created to get better information about scallops, which bring fishermen a half-billion dollars in revenues annually. AP Photo/NOAA
(AP)—A new underwater explorer hit the seas this summer, armed with
cameras, strobes and sonar and charged with being a protector of sorts
to a half-billion dollar resource—the Atlantic scallop catch.
stainless steel Seahorse, which gets its nickname from its s-shaped
silhouette, traces its roots to a conversation a decade ago between a
biologist and a fisherman who was seeking a better way to track the
summer, the instrument was towed over miles of seafloor, from Virginia
to Cape Cod, taking millions of images and capturing details about
marine life and the ocean floor that stretched beyond just the number of
Seahorse revealed previously unseen ocean topography, predators
stalking prey, and even the furrows left where fishing gear was pulled
along the bottom.
scientists just don’t get this kind of look into the darkness on the
ocean floor, said Dvora Hart, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration mathematical biologist who leads the federal sea scallop
“We’ve been kind of blind before having this type of information,” Hart said.
Seahorse is the fourth version of HabCam, an instrument originally
created to better count scallops. Former scalloper Richard Taylor had
seen scallop industry’s worst times around 1994, when the prime fishing
areas were closed to protect depleted groundfish and scallop
by 1996, scientists discovered that areas that had been shut down to
protect certain fish species were rich with scallops. The industry has
been thriving since the late 1990s, after regulators installed a plan to
cut down fishing days and rotate fishing between different areas, to
allow the stock to replenish in untouched regions.
year, the Atlantic sea scallop catch was worth $580 million in
revenues, and the industry’s best-known port of New Bedford has been the
nation’s top fishing revenue port for 11 years running.
around 2002, Taylor knew things were going well, but also knew how
quickly they can go bad. He was particularly concerned about the
inefficiency of the primary method for sampling scallops for use in
population estimates—using a dredge to scoop them up. A dredge misses
varying percentages of the scallops it goes over, and Taylor worried the
flawed information could eventually lead to the overfishing or
underfishing that can drag down the resource and the fishermen.
talked with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution biologist Scott
Gallager, whom he had worked with on scallop issues. “We need a better
tool,” he told Gallager.
helped develop the Seahorse, along with the Deep Submergence Laboratory
at Woods Hole. It’s an advance over previous versions of HabCam because
it’s equipped with strobes and two cameras, instead of one, enabling it
to take 3D pictures at a rate of 10 overlapping images per second. It
has side sonar to give high resolution images of the surrounding
topography, and also equipment to measure variables such as temperature
and water color.
Seahorse is towed at about 7 mph, and moves 6 feet above the ocean
floor. The instrument, about 10 feet long and about 3 feet wide, is
controlled by joystick by an operator in the towing vessel.
Since 2010, NOAA has spent $856,000 to develop, test and deploy the Seahorse.
have made a first pass through the 7 million images, studying 1 of
every 200, and the data is being used in management decisions, Hart
said. A more detailed look is planned, she said.
voluminous detail the Seahorse collects has application well beyond
scallops and their habitat. Hart notes, for instance, that the Seahorse
captured pictures of the struggling yellowtail flounder, and may
contribute to research in that fishery. Its images of the effects of
fishing gear can inform the hot, yet data-poor debate about whether
fishing gear is wrecking the ocean bottom.
Seahorse can’t replace the dredge as a sampling tool. Scientists need
to actually pull up scallops to get key information, such as by studying
rings on the shells (much like tree rings) to learn about their growth
And Taylor cautioned that new data from the Seahorse doesn’t necessarily mean much when it comes to managing fisheries.
somewhat skeptical,” he said. “Just because you have better data,
doesn’t mean automatically that better decisions are made.”
Paul Rosonina runs a vessel that’s towed the Seahorse and has been part
of its development for years. Scallop industry regulators can’t do the
right thing without good information, and that’s what the Seahorse is
about to him.
think I don’t want my son to have a future?” he said. “I want my
grandson to have a future; I want my great grandson to have a future. I
don’t want this to die. … I think it should be around forever.”
Source: The Associated Press