Samoan Archipelago Biological Expedition Focused on Deepwater Bottomfish, Coral Reef Fish and Pelagic Fish Life History and Ecology

March 4, 2016

The NOAA R/V Oscar Elton Sette, fresh from drydock, has departed her home port of Honolulu and is currently in transit to Pago Pago, American Samoa. Upon arrival, she will embark a diverse group of scientists and begin a 30-day research project in the waters of the Samoan Archipelago, including the U.S. Territory of American Samoa and the nation of Samoa. The Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) has not conducted research in Samoa since 1979 and this marks the first visit to the nation by the Sette.

Small boats launched from the Sette will be used to collect fish samples for life history studies.
Small boats launched from the Sette will be used to collect fish samples for life history studies.
Midwater Cobb trawl prior to deployment from the NOAA R/V Sette. The back "cod-end" of the net is shown lying on the deck; the rest 
        of the net is wrapped around the net reel. The net will be towed at night to capture specimens of pelagic stage bottomfish. After 
        the tow is completed and the net retrieved, the black canvas bag (lying on deck) will be opened to remove the catch.
Midwater Cobb trawl prior to deployment from the NOAA R/V Sette. The back "cod-end" of the net is shown lying on the deck; the rest of the net is wrapped around the net reel. The net will be towed at night to capture specimens of pelagic stage bottomfish. After the tow is completed and the net retrieved, the black canvas bag (lying on deck) will be opened to remove the catch.
Researchers open the back "cod-end" of the mid-water Cobb trawl to retrieve specimens.
Researchers open the back "cod-end" of the mid-water Cobb trawl to retrieve specimens.
An example of the variety of specimens caught in the midwater Cobb trawl and Issacs-Kidd trawl.
An example of the variety of specimens caught in the midwater Cobb trawl and Issacs-Kidd trawl.

The Samoa Archipelago Fisheries Research Cruise will support ongoing and new research projects of the PIFSC Fisheries Research & Monitoring Division (FRMD), Life History Program (LHP). The primary mission of the LHP and this cruise is to learn more about the biology and environment of coral reef fish, deepwater bottomfish and pelagic fish resources that support important local fisheries. The biological data gathered in the mission will be used to improve fish stocks assessments and provide a foundation for scientific advice to resource managers.

During this expedition, identified as project SE16-01, PIFSC LHP Fisheries Biologist Joseph O'Malley will serve as Chief Scientist to lead a research team that includes other scientists from PIFSC, the Research Cooperation of the University of Hawaiʻi's Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, agency scientists from the American Samoa Division of Marine and Wildlife Resources, and Samoa's Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. Other members of the research team include students from American Samoa Community College and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, researchers from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Government of Western Australia Department of Fisheries and The Pacific Community (SPC) and an experienced commercial Hawaii bottomfish fisherman.

A series of research objectives will be met utilizing teams of researchers who will collect biological samples from coral reef fishes (parrotfishes (laea-mea), unicornfish (ume-iso)) via spearfishing, deepwater bottomfish species (opakapaka (palu-enaʻena), onaga (palu-malau)) using hook-and-line and pelagic fish (albacore tuna (apakoa)) using midwater trawls. Otoliths (ear bones which record a fish's age similar to rings on a tree) will be extracted for age, longevity and growth studies and gonads subsampled and preserved to determine reproductive aspects (gender, size- and age-at-maturity). Researchers will be targeting specific fish species and sizes that are not available to the American Samoa Biosampling Program, which collects biological samples from the local markets (eg. the very small and the large individuals). The midwater trawls will be fished at night to collect larval albacore tuna for stock structure determination and juvenile and adult albacore prey items to further understanding of trophic dynamics (food webs). Finally, akule (atule) will be attracted to the Sette using a nightlight and captured using light fishing tackle. This will provide a first glimpse of the offshore population of this culturally important species and perhaps shed light on their recent disappearance from some of the traditional bays in American Samoa. A CTD, an instrument that measures a variety of oceanographic conditions (temperature, salinity, chlorophyll content) to a depth of 1000 meters, will be used to link the species biology and life history with the environment they inhabit. The expansion of PIFSC research into Samoa's waters will allow documentation and comparisons of life history parameters at the archipelago level.

People in American Samoa will notice research activities around Tutuila from March 3 to March 11. The Sette will then be conducting operations at the offshore seamounts of South Bank and 2% Bank from March 12 to March 20 and Rose Atoll (Motu O Manu) from March 21 to March 23. The Sette will then visit Apia, Samoa for 4 days of resupplying and public outreach before embarking local scientists and conducting research around Upolu and Savaiʻi from March 30 to April 3. The cruise will culminate with a ship tour on April 11 in Apia.

Operational area of the Samoa Archipelago Fisheries Research Cruise (SE 16-01).
Operational area of the Samoa Archipelago Fisheries Research Cruise (SE 16-01).