When large populations of jellyfish get into the area of the pens, they splatter in the netting around the pens and can cause whole pens of fish to die. The jellyfish haven’t been studied very heavily around Iceland, so hopefully if they know more about their lifecycle and population dynamics, they can predict when the large populations will come through and set up some kind of barrier to protect the fish they are growing. So, when it comes down to it, it’s all about the cod.
To get there, though, requires looking at a lot of jellyfish. Most of the looking is being done by Guðjón, a masters student in marine biology at the University of Iceland in Reykjavík, who is spending the summer traveling around Iceland going out and collecting samples and then will spend the winter going through each of the samples to identify, count, and measure each and every jellyfish. They make you work hard for a masters degree, it seems.
Each place we stopped to sample, we lowered a device with two equal-sized circular openings that collected the jellyfish in 500 micron mesh nets that splayed out behind the boat and collected the jellyfish (and anything else that got caught in the net, including a lot of juvenile fish) in a removable cod end (I don’t think the term is related to the fish – it just means the place where everything collects at the end of the net).
After we were done sampling, we brought the nets back up to collect everything that had been caught to preserve for analysis during the winter.
We rinsed out the nets to get everything into the cod end at the bottom, detached the cod end, and dumped everything inside into a plastic bucket and then added formaldehyde to preserve all the contents.
Then we cleaned off the nets, stored the sample buckets, and got ready to do it all again.
It’s definitely hard work, particularly when it was windy and the sea was rough – I’ve been ridiculously tired the past few nights and collapsed in bed before ten – but it was great to be out in a boat, to see the fjord, and to finally be doing some actual work. The weather also turned out to be excellent – the fog cleared, the sun came out, and the view of the fjord was absolutely gorgeous. Iceland is a spectacularly beautiful place. In between samples, there was lots of time to stand on deck and look at the mountains and the water and the small towns we passed and the trawlers that passed us.
We also had some time for fun, which included teaching me how to fish, and catching my first Icelandic haddock. Apparently Icelanders eat mostly haddock – most of the cod is exported, and the pollock Guðjón caught the first day he threw back because Icelanders don’t think it’s a good food fish. At the end of the day yesterday, Tryggvi filleted all four haddock we had caught (adding to an eerie fish graveyard of gutted fish in the water next to the dock in the harbor) and gave them all to me to take home.
It was good. And now my fridge is full of fish soup, which was dinner tonight. And fish it will be until I leave for the shrimp survey, since I don’t want to let any of it go to waste.
I have re-concluded that I like the sea, which is good, because we’re going to be spending a lot of time together this year. Even if all I do is go out on boats and get cold and wet and covered in jellyfish slime, it will be a good year.