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60 Years of Science on the Atlantic

February 01, 2024

The Northeast Bottom Trawl survey reached a major milestone when it turned 60 years old in fall 2023. Learn how this survey is conducted and how it informs science and management in the Atlantic.

Survey tow net is hauled up with catch for sorting and processing After each survey tow, the net is retrieved and the catch is emptied into a hopper where a series of conveyors move the catch to the sorting and processing area aboard the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow. There, scientists sort the catch and collect data and biological samples. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Jessica Blaylock

The Northeast Bottom Trawl survey, which takes place along the East Coast in the spring and fall, turned 60 years old last fall 2023. The time series produced by this survey provides decades of standardized data on fisheries and ocean conditions in the Atlantic used to inform scientists and managers. The Northeast Bottom Trawl survey combines seafaring science with hands-on lab work and sophisticated technology—all squeezed into the NOAA vessel, the Henry B. Bigelow, which is named for a 20th-century oceanographer. 

Several small silvery deep-bodied fish lie in a pile. The perspective is from above and looking down.
A pile of butterfish. Note the high lateral line that almost looks like a small ridge, not to be confused with the light, horizontal line running along the center of the body. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Christine Kircun

We'll hear from Phil Politis, a supervisory fishery biologist and the Bottom Trawl Survey program lead at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, about different aspects of the survey—from catching and processing to recording data. These steps have all been fine-tuned to maximize their efficiency while at sea, and to preserve their time series. Phil also shares some of the species that the processors sorting through these catches encounter—including squid, skates, flatfish, flounder, and lobsters. 

Listen in as we hear about how the survey is conducted, what life is like aboard the vessel, and why the long-running survey is so valuable.