OBSERVING THE CATCH
A group of around 55 people spend days, weeks and sometimes months at sea, collecting data on commercial fishing activities and what is being caught. They collect biological samples and other information that will help with research, fisheries management, setting sustainable catch levels and monitoring the environmental impact of fishing activities.
Some of the samples observers collect are bony parts of a fish’s head called otoliths. These grow a new ring every year like a tree, by removing the otoliths and examining them under a microscope it is possible to work out how old a fish is. This gives us important information on the average age of the fish being caught.
Observers work aboard vessels in deepwater, middle-depth and pelagic fisheries, as well as smaller fishing vessels operating in the surface and bottom long-line, purse seine, set net and inshore trawl fisheries.
In 2006/07 there was a total of 5,969 days when observers were at sea, an increase of 11 percent on the previous year. This year, 2007/08, we were up 13 percent (or 785 days) on last year’s result.
Another important part of an observer’s job is collecting scientific specimens that will add to our knowledge of what species live in the sea surrounding New Zealand. On average 2 to 3 species of never seen before fish are discovered by observers every week. These fish are provided to NIWA and then to the national fish collection held by Te Papa.
The highlight of 2007 was the collection of the colossal squid caught by a New Zealand fishing vessel in Antarctic waters while longlining for toothfish and was brought back for scientific study.
Thanks to the combined efforts of the San Aspiring’s crew and the Ministry of Fisheries observer this is the first intact specimen of a colossal squid ever to be landed.