Sunday, October 10, 2010

Team Mackerel!

Since early July, the harbors and inlets along Massachusetts Bay from Cape Cod to Cape Ann have been awash with mackerel.

Here in Boston Harbor the mackerel fishing has been "epic". They are great to eat - as sashimi or grilled - and make a great live bait for striped bass, bluefish and tuna.

In fact, some days it felt as if they were following me around the dock... as in this picture.

At first I thought that we had two schools of Atlantic mackerel living under my boat at Constitution Marina, one made up of six inch "tinkers" and one made up of slightly larger fish.

However, I was wrong. Actually, we have two different species of mackerel here in Boston Harbor, and in Provincetown as well. The most common is Scomber Scombrus, the Atlantic Mackerel a staple of fishing here in New England. The second is Scomber Japonicus, the Chub Mackerel - also know as the Pacific Mackerel - which is quite a misleading common name for a fish that inhabits the Atlantic coast.

Here is a picture of the two species together, so you can see the difference for yourself.

The first is Scomber Scombrus - Atlantic Mackerel. The second, Scomber Japonicus - Chub Mackerel. Identification is a little complicate because they look so much alike when they are in the water or bait well. The easiest way to tell the difference is to look for the spots below the squiggles - if there are spots, it is almost certainly a Chub.

As to which species has been following me around the dock this summer and fall, I can't say from the photo. But both species have made this a remarkable season for striped bass and bluefishing here at the dock at Constitution Marina on Boston Harbor.

All the best


Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Joy of Fishing 2010: Fish Chicks

For the past few weeks Boston Harbor has been awash with big striped bass and bluefish chasing enormous schools herring and mackerel, many of which have taken up residence under my boat "The Verandah" docked at Constitution Marina in Charlestown.

As a result, fishing has been spectacular - jig up a mackerel, put it down under the boat - and sooner or later (often much sooner) you will be wrestling with a big bass or blue.

Because there is a lot of underwater structure at the marina (boats, docks, keels, chains, etc.) that can cut your line, you need be alert - but despite the high degree of difficulty, it can be done.

So last night when I went to sleep I inadvertently left a rod with a live bait out in the stern rod holder of my boat. At some time during the night I was awakened by the screaming sound of my Newell reel as a big fish ate the little fish and tried to swim away under the dock.

The next thing I heard was the "whispering" of my neighbor Christine the "Fish Chick" and her boyfriend Dave (of Lion's Mane fame) from down the dock - who heard the rod go off - and decided to lend a hand.

Over the past few months Christine has dedicated herself to learning everything she can about fishing here on Boston Harbor. I have tried to share what I know with her - she is a quick study, and incredibly persistent. As a result, she's getting pretty good at it: She knows the fish and the rules - has her salt water registration card - and knows how to catch, clean and cook (or simply serve) mackerel, flounder, bass and bluefish.

Confident that everything was under control, I fell back asleep and woke up this morning to a a text message from Christine letting me know what had happened - and letting me know that there was a 29 1/2 inch striped bass in my fishbox - which I will be sharing with my friends tonight for dinner.

So that's the joy of fishing for today - it isn't all about the fish - it is about the great people you catch along the way.

Here's a picture of Christine and the original Fish Chicks - with one of the first stripers they caught by themselves this summer.

All the best


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Striped Bass

The Recreational Fishermen of Connecticut:

The recreational fishermen of Connecticut are opposed to the Federal waters opening because there is no federal water right off the coast of Connecticut. If the Federal waters were opened, it would not help the recreational fishermen to be able to catch more fish. It would just give other states the opportunity to fish in more area of water than those of connecticut.

My thoughts:
I believe that opening the Federal waters but keeping the same limitations of each state seems to be the best idea. My thoughts for this are that since people cannot fish in federal waters, they may be more likely to take fish that are not within the regulations by the states. I feel that there are solid arguments for both recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen with regards to which one should be allowed to fish in these waters. I believe that there are positives to letting both recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen fish the federal waters. I may be more partial to recreational fishermen because I believe that commercial fishermen could be a larger cause of depletion. Although, commercial fishermen bring up a good point about recreational fishermen’s wasteful nature with regards to each individual fish caught and eaten. This is why I have come to the conclusion that both recreational and commercial fishermen should be able to fish in the federal waters if they are opened, which I believe they should be.

Classroom Experimentation and Anatomy Lesson:

During our classroom experimentation we were able to look up-close at the anatomy of the striped bass. The striped bass has a bony head that is connected to a muscular body right at the base of the head. The bass breathes through gills at this connection point. The striped bass's mouth is bendable and bass are able to open thier mouths very wide. The teeth of striped bass are kind of bristley. The ribs run right along the side of the fish and all of the fish's organs are stored in the belly which is located on the white underside of the fish. The fish has a similar anatomy as humans but it is a little differently setup.

Experimentations using heat and other experimental substances:

When experimenting with heat, my original thoughts were, “I have absolutely no clue how to do this!” After deciding that the best way would probably be just to use as little other ingredients as possible since I liked it raw so much that I want to keep the flavor. So I decided that the best way to cook this would be to just fry it up in a frying pan with some olive oil. After the bass was cooked, I tested it to make sure I didn’t completely destroy it. It was absolutely amazing and such a success. I was so happy.

All I have to say about this day is that 1. Striped bass are absolutely delicious and 2. I hope that they never become extinct because stupid fishermen over-fish them.

Spectacle Island

Spectacle Island is a very interesting place. Way back in the day it used to be an island where Boston shipped all of it's garbage to. It was not the most pleasant place because of this. They had a little village of sorts on the island and the children on the island had a lady come in every weekday to teach them grade school. When they became old enough they would travel to the mainland for high school. The island also had a small pond on it where the locals could go skating on in the winter. Unfortunately, the Spectacle Island we saw was a very different place. I say unfortunately because there is no longer a pond on Spectacle that you can skate on in the winter. In fact, there is no pond period on Spectacle Island. There are also no old houses or remnants from the old village that used to be here. The only memories of what Spectacle used to look like are in photographs at the visitors center in the island. Spectacle used to be a little village where garbage was dumped and burned, animals were turned into candles and alcohol was brought during prohibition. The Spectacle Island of present day is a popular destination for swimming and day trips. The island is made up of landfill brought by boat to the island to transform it to its present state. The island is very impacted by human use, much like the Barking Crab.

Our mission today was to find out what part of the beach was best for shells and other things of the sort. The coolest thing about the fact that this island used to be where garbage was dumped and burned is the amount of old things that wash up on shore. The beaches of Spectacle are covered in sea glass and ceramics among all sorts of other interesting treasures.

Each group was given a circular site marker in which they had to place somewhere along the beach and calculate the relative abundance of the things found inside the markers edge. Our group decided to put the different groups of things into cylindrical piles and measure the volume of each. We decided to make four different groups: rock, glass, ceramics and shells.

This is what we found:

The first sight we ventured to was about 20 yards up from the water's edge. We observed this at around 1:20pm. At this sight there were a lot of different things. The largest quantity of things was rocks with glass coming in a pretty close second.

We made a pile of rocks with dimensions 1in. high with a 12 in. diameter. This gives the rock pile a volume of 113 cubic inches.

The glass dimensions were 1in. high with a 6 in. diameter. This gives the glass a volume of 28 cubic inches.
The ceramic amount we found measured 1/2 in. high with a 3 in. diameter. This gives the ceramic findings a volume of 4 cubic inches.
The shell amount we found at site 1 measured 1/2 in. high with a 2in. diameter. This gives ad volume of 2 cubic inches for the shell quantity.

The second sight we chose to observe was right at the water's edge. Here we found a different quantities of things inside our ring. At this site we had a much larger volume of rocks. There were much larger rocks than further up the shoreline and so we decided to separate these large rocks into their own group for sorting. At this level there was a much different abundance relative quantity value thank the site further up on the beach. There is barely any ceramic and shells at this level. There is however a much larger quantity of rocks and there are also much larger rocks that were not found in the site up the beach. We observed this site at around 2 pm with the tide coming in (we guessed it to be around 5-6 ft).

The large rocks pile dimensions were 3 in. high with a 12 in. diameter. This makes the large rock volume to be 339 cubic inches.

The smaller rocks pile dimensions were 2 in. high with a 10 in. diameter. This measures a volume of 157 cubic inches for the smaller rick pile.

The Glass pile was a 1/2 in. high with a 3 in. diameter. This means there is a volume of 0.5 cubic inches.

The ceramics was 1/4 in. high with a 1 in. diameter and the Shells pile was the same size as this... there was very little of both of these things at this level. The volume of the ceramics and shells is each 0.4 cubic inches.

From all of these observations, I have concluded that to find ceramics and shells one wants to go further up the beach to around the high tide line. This is because these two things are much lighter and can be carried up the beach more easily by the water. Heavier things like the large rocks do not generally make it that far up the beach because it is harder for the water to move these objects. Glass seems to be lighter than rock but heavier than shells and ceramics. It is the most dominant thing on the beach besides rocks.
An interesting observation we made as a group on the island was observe a broken moon-snail. the shell was completely broken to pieces by a large rock. With this observation, it is believed that there is a type of bird that uses rocks to break open shells so that it can eat the animals inside. It would be interesting to come up with an experiment to prove this. One would have to understand the density and brittleness of the shells in question and at what height they must be dropped from in order to break open. Also, one would have to see all the different animals that can get to this height to break the shells. After these things have been figured out, one can set-up an observation on a particular animal or at a particular location to see if they can observe this in nature. Also one can set up a simulation model of what they believe is happening and see if they are able to get the same results as their prediction.

After all of our data gathering we roamed the beaches for the most interesting things we could find that washed up on shore.

I found this to be a very lovely day on the Harbor Islands. Spectacle Island was one of the most interesting beaches I have ever been to. I have never seen any beach with more sea glass. This was truly a unique experience.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Some fun teaching photos

Lovell's Island

Although I am very sad that I was not able to make the trip to Lovell's when the class went, I feel that I would not have had the same experience as I did today.

My day started out with some negative beginnings. Firstly, while I was packing for my trip I could not find any sunscreen. At that point I figured, "I might not be out in the sun long enough for this to matter. I can survive." Now as I write this blog with my face the color of a tomato and my lovely new burned in farmers tan, I think I might have been wrong about that. I continue getting ready and head down to the water. I thought that since it was a weekday, it may not be as crowded. (Smartly enough, I forgot the key word "Summer" which I did not factor into my plans.) I looked up the ferry schedule and the low tide tables and factored that I needed to get on the 10am ferry to be able to make the 11:20 ferry from Georges Island to Lovell's. As I am waiting in line for a ticket, the 10am ferry gets sold out. Well, this is very bad. How am I going to manage to get to Lovell's Island on the 11:20 ferry when the 11am ferry gets to Georges at 11:30? My immediate thoughts were that I am going to need to get snorkel gear because I am not going to get there for low tide. I talked to the lady at the ticket booth about these issues and she kindly told me that if I speak with the Captain on the ferry boat, they can call ahead and hold the ferry at Georges to go to Lovell's. This is when things just turned around for me. Today was going to be a good day.

As I am sitting around waiting for the ferry, I notice this boat in the harbor. There is a lady driving the boat and a man standing on the front of the boat. There are also three to four bins on the vessel: one blue recycling bin and two or three trash bins. The man is holding one of those pool skimming nets and sifting up garbage and other things floating on the harbors surface that should not be there. I thought this was awesome and I thought it was even cooler that they had a recycling bin as well as the trash bins on board.

I arrive at Lovell's Island around 11:40 just in time for low tide. Upon arrival we are greeted by the park rangers who keep the island in good order. They go over safety issues and some basic rules of the island. After our introduction, we are free to wonder around and explore to our hearts content. The main park ranger that introduced himself to us was named Tim. Tim is awesome and he is by far the coolest park ranger on the island, in my opinion of course. I explained that I was from Boston University and that I had missed our day at Lovell's Island. I told him that I needed to find some periwinkles and land snails and a couple other things. He pointed me in the right direction and off I went. I was given the advice to "keep my eyes peeled" for the land snails because there would be some on my way to the water.

As I am walking along to the water I come across the blackberries that everyone is talking about. Now don't get me wrong, I thought there would be some blackberries but "oh wow" is all I can come up with. There have to be hundreds of blackberry bushes everywhere.

After eating a ridiculous amount of blackberries, I continue on my walk only to find a grove snail just before I get to the water. I find this snail just hanging out on a large leaf.

So, I decide to pick said grove snail up and see what it does... It slimed on me.

After observing its lovely shell and slimy body, I decided to put it back on its leaf to go about its snail business.
The reasons why I believe this is a grove snail are that the grove snail is common on Lovell's Island, I found the snail in a wooded area on a leaf, the grove snail can have both light and dark colored lips. I felt that examining the snails love darts in the presence of small children might send the wrong message of "what to do when encountering a snail in the wild".

After all of this I make it to the beach with the tide pools and before I came here I thought it may be hard to find these periwinkles everyone was talking about. Two steps onto the beach, I realise that this is definitely not the case. There are periwinkles everywhere. I feel bad that I cant avoid not stepping on them as I explore the beach. It is a little after low tide so the tide is coming in and it is a sunny afternoon in the summer at Lovell's Island. The water is very clear and it is easy to observe the wildlife. Right as I am about to start investigating I encounter a lovely visitor: Tim. The park ranger decided to come visit and see if I needed any help finding things in the tide pools. This was awesome. We explored the small tie pools. Found all sorts of animals and plants. We waded out into about shin- high water around the rocks to see if there may be a lobster we could catch. It was very nice to wonder around the beach with Tim, I hope there are park rangers at every national park like him.

So some of the things that I found:

The first animal I encountered was the common periwinkle. It is an invasive species from Europe and it is becoming more and more common on the New England shoreline. They are found on rocky shores in the intertidal area. It sometimes lives in small tide pools and it attaches itself to hard surfaces. I was able to coax a periwinkle a little bit out of its shell and I could see that its skin was a different color than that of the grove snail. Another thing that was different was that the periwinkle had this kind of protective door it was able to slide back behind when it did not feel safe. I did not see this same door-like thing on the grove snail. The periwinkle is a water animal and It needs to preserve its moisture and water while the tide is out. This is why they are all stuck to all of the rocks. The snails suction themselves to these rocks and make an air-tight seal until they are able to be submerged in water again.

Another animal I came across was what I believe to be the Northern Rock Barnacle, Balanus balanoids. There were two pairs of plates at the top with a gap in between them. The barnacles are said to be within this range, from the Arctic to Delaware. It is rough to the touch and can be the cause of many scrapes by inattentive beach-goers.

There were a couple different types of crabs that I found, this one being one in particular that I got a good look at. At first look in the guide book, I thought as though it could be a wharf crab. The wharf crab is said to be squarish and about 7/8" wide and 3/4" long. This is just about the size that I saw. The eyes are at the front corners and the third pair of walking legs is very long. The only problem with this is that the wharf crab is only found as high north as the Chesapeake Bay. I tried looking at the Hitchhikers Guide but this only helped me to identify the dead Asian shore crab that I saw floating around in the water around the tide pools as the tide was coming in. So, I am still a little baffled at what type of crab this is because I cannot find any other crab with this kind of physical description in this general area.

The next animal, which happened to be the next most common animal aside from the periwinkle was the hermit crab. I do not find this to be very surprising because the hermit crab uses the shells of other animals to live in. In this case, the old periwinkle shells are just perfect for a hermit crab to make its home in. The hermit crabs I saw were a lighter color and they did not appear to be fuzzy like most of the hermit crabs I see in a lot of the pictures in the guide book. These hermit crabs were living in the shells of old periwinkles. Looking in the guidebook, I saw a picture of the long-clawed hermit crab and thought that it looked the most like the one I was holding. After reading more about it I believe this to be the case. The long-clawed hermit crab are known for living in snail shells. They can be found from Nova Scotia to Florida and they are the most common hermit crab in the Atlantic Ocean.

As I was wading in about shin-deep water I found this really interesting part of a shell. I had absolutely no idea what kind of animal this may have been. Upon further investigation and some helpful hints, I believe that this was the shell of a green sea urchin. Green sea urchin can be found on rocky shores and in kelp beds within this range. Considering this was a rocky shore and I also found kelp on the beach, this seems to be a very good prediction. Now if only to find a live one...
As I was observing a small tide pool, I came across some familiar species. As you can kind of see from the picture to the right, i found some red and orange tunicate. I also found two club tunicate attached to a rock in the next tide pool over. These invasive species seem to have gotten all the way out to Lovell's too!
Another lovely species that we already came across was Rockweed. I decided to photograph Rockweed at its finest, attached to a large rock.
I found this brown stuff. It felt like slimy thick paper and I was told that it was called kelp. It is a large brown seaweed. Sea urchins like to feed on this. The interesting thing I found about this seaweed was something that I found on the kelp. There was this white filmy stuff on top of some of the kelp we found. Tim said that this was the doing of an invasive species and I tried to look it up but have not been able to identify what it is. It has a web-like look to it almost the same image that you would see when you see the layers of an old tree that has been cut down.
After exploring the beach some more I decide to go off on an island walk with Tim because he offered to show me some other cool things about the island.
One thing we did was we had some beach plums because they just became ripe. (He has been waiting for them to ripen and was really really excited.) We found these beach plums at Burbec Morris on the island. I have never had beach plums before and they were pretty tasty.
After our plum adventure he was walking with me back to the main part of the island and we got to talking about the outer harbor islands. I was saying how I was kind of intrigued to know what was on the furthest out island, The Graves. I said that I had heard that there was not much there except a lighthouse. He said that maybe we should have a closer look to see. I was kind of confused at this statement until we stopped by his ranger quarters and grabbed his bright red telescope. We took it out to the beach that faces the outer harbor islands and had a look. Unfortunately it was a pretty foggy day out today so we were not able to see all the way out to the Graves but I was able to see the Boston Light up close through the lens.
All sunburns aside, this was one of the greatest adventures. Lovell's Island is the least trafficed island that we visited. The island policies are taken pretty seriously and every person who comes on the island has to listen to the rangers little lecture about the rules and conduct of the island before they can explore or camp. Much of the island is forest and the rest is mostly beach. There are no snack-bars or commercial things on the island and the park is maintained to preserve the wildlife that is currently inhabiting it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Treasures of spectacle island

Spectacle island has an incredibly interesting history.
Abridged history:
17th century - source of firewood and a smallpox quarantine
18th century - the island housed farmsteads and picnickers
19th century - Two hotels were built in 1847, only to be closed by police ten years later when it was discovered they were used for gambling and other illicit activities. A horse rendering plant was built in 1857 followed by a city trash incinerator.
20th century - "the trash incinerator remained active until 1935. When the incinerator closed, trash was simply dumped on the island for the next thirty years, until a bulldozer was suddenly swallowed up by the trash in 1959. The island remained a smelly, leaking dump until the 1990. When the Big Dig began work in Boston in 1992, some of the excavated dirt and clay was used to resurface the island. The island was covered and built up by dirt, capped with two feet of clay, and covered with two to five feet of topsoil. Thousands of trees were planted, and paths, buildings, and a dock were built. The island opened to the public in June, 2006, for use as a recreational area with hiking trails, a beach, and a marina with boat slips for visitors"

(history provided by wikipedia)

Bruce supplemented this history with some other details such as the cache of methane gas in the island which is why they don't allow camping there in fear that someone will make a camp fire and set one of those methane deposits aflame which could burn for a long time (years possibly).

First site:
The first area that my group and I chose to examine was on one of the higher wrack lines. The first we did was separate the things we found into natural and man-made. Then from the natural things we separated the periwinkle shells, lady slippers, mussel shells, moon shell snails, random shells, sea weed, crab parts, and feathers. The man-made stuff was seperated into glass, simple ceramic, and ceramic with patterns. We started discussing what bruce was talking about when he said the large nuts rise to the top. I think it was ted who first suggested we start digging. We dug about 8-12 inches down but did not find many specimens different than the types we found on the surface.

a bunch of sea glass

periwinkle shells

lady slippers

mussel shells

ceramics with patterns

Second site:
The second sit we chose was right at the waters edge where the tide was coming in. We did not find any man made things there, only natural. We had to gather and record our observations quickly as the water was actively coming in. We found a small collecting of lady slippers clung to rocks, etc. We also found some razor back clam shells, several small crabs, one large oyster shell, moon snail shells, a large rock with a colony of barnacles, and one sea anemone.

live lady slippers

Rock covered with barnacles

razor back clams