I have never been much of a fisher: the closest that I ever got to it was fishing for goldfish out of an inflatable swimming pool at carnivals. And to be honest, I wasn’t all that great at it. Nonetheless, I was excited to observe and collect data related to the Gulf corvina fishery. As an undergraduate, when I was given the opportunity to go down to Mexico for research, I was ecstatic. For one, the tacos. Boy, was I right. Mouth-watering, rich, flavorful—trust me, I’m having dreams about them. Second, sitting in a boat out on the ocean and checking out the nature sounds awesome. Third, and more importantly, I found it a way to understand more about the research that we do. Sure, I work in the lab cutting and aging otoliths, but what does that matter if I fail to see the importance of it and understand what the information is used for. Physically going to Mexico made me feel very “I AM A GIRL OF ACTION, ON A MISSION OUT TO CHANGE THE WORLD”-esque, a pretty cool feeling if you ask me.
When we got to Mexico, we first did dissections of the corvina. This involved collecting all of the data on the fish necessary to map its life history: total length, weight, gender, gonad weight, reproductive stage and otolith extraction. This required me to get down and dirty—I was up to my elbows in fish blood and guts and I loved it. At first I wore gloves, but due to my small hands (the gloves were large sized), I had difficulty gripping the tools and feeling the right organs. As such, I quickly stripped off the gloves and dove right into the fish. Sure, it was slimy, but it was exhilarating and gave me a sense of how to gut fish and identify the very organisms that we study. Plus, it was another thing that I could tack onto my resume (right next to being able to touch my nose with my tongue and making a fool out of myself). Moreover, I saw a swim bladder in person and was in awe of its beautiful coloration- an iridescent white that shimmered in the sun. I understood why certain cultures perceive it to have healing powers and hold such a high demand for it.
Centered at El Golfo de Santa Clara, we went out on boating excursions for the latter two days. Using all these really expensive equipment, we took recordings of corvina, salinity and temperature, and mapped corvina aggregations. While rocking in a boat in the sweltering sun for 8 hours (I even brought an umbrella, but the wind made me double-think that) and urinating in a bucket as the boat bobbed was not the most comfortable environment, gazing out to the waters and observing sea lions hunt the corvina made it all worth it. It’s funny—watching the fishermen pull up their nets and hearing the corvina purr would have mistakenly given me the impression that the fish were beyond abundant. One vessel even asked if we wanted fish because they couldn’t pull up their net: any more fish and they would have sunk their boat!
Moreover, interacting with the very fisherman that the fishery impacted was eye-opening. I was able to experience firsthand what it means to depend on fisheries as the sole economic source and to understand why overfishing is such a titanic issue. The fishermen don’t know when they have reached their quota until after they have fished and taken their fish to the market; even if they have yet to reach their quota, the bountiful amount of fish all at one time floods the market and drives the price down. This may ultimately cause the market to close down temporarily, putting the fishermen out of work, further driving the cycle to fish as much as possible to make more money to support their family. Furthermore, because the community is completely dependent on the fishery, there are little options to attain a living besides fishing. The gravity of overfishing didn’t quite dawn on me until this trip and allowed me comprehend the significance of research such as the Gulf of California Marine Program.
Overall, the trip was fantastic and held so much to learn. With the Colorado River reopened, it will be incredibly interesting to see what ecosystem changes will occur and observe the anthropogenic effects on the Gulf of California. Nonetheless, I will always keep Santa Clara in my mind and its fisheries in my stomach. Oops—I mean heart.
Co-researcher Juan Jose Cota from Mexico all suited up for the boat drive to the Colorado delta.
One of the fishing vessels that we took out to collect data.
(Top and bottom photos) Photos of the shore where trucks unloaded the boats into the ocean.
My first otolith dissection!!
Astrid is an undergraduate studying at University of California, San
Diego, majoring in Marine Biology and minoring in Science Education. She
is currently a research assistant at Scripps Institute of Oceanography
developing growth models of fish using otolith age and structure.