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Updated: 2 hours 33 min ago

Inspecting a freezing Afrika

Thu, 2018-08-02 15:24

Boarding the AfrikaOn the 16th of July a boarding party from MPV Jura, including two trainees, carried out a routine inspection of the Dutch pelagic freezer trawler ‘Afrika’ to the east of Fair Isle.

The ‘Afrika’ is big vessel – 126m long with 11 refrigerated seawater tanks (RSW) onboard, giving her a total capacity of over 690m³. A big vessel means a long climb up from the boarding boat (a Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB)) to the lowest accessible deck of the ship and in this case, it was about 7m from the waterline to the deck, with the only access being rope a boarding ladder lowered by the ships crew down to the RIB.

Whilst the North Sea is enjoying the same fantastic weather conditions that folks ashore are, the famed swell can still cause a metre or so of movement between the RIB and the ladder so boarding teams have to be professional and confident when transferring between vessels to avoid putting themselves and others into an unsafe situation. On this occasion there were no problems and the boarding party were all safely up the ladder and aboard ‘Afrika’.

Once aboard we were met by the 1st Mate of the vessel who escorted the boarding party to the Bridge to introduce us to the Captain. With the formalities out of the way the inspection started with a routine check of the paperwork need to allow the ‘Afrika’ to fish in Scottish waters. With all of this being in order, the boarding party moved to the working deck of the vessel to commence ‘dipping’ the RSW tanks to ascertain the volume of catch onboard.

Boarding the AfrikaTo do this, an ullage (the amount of evaporation/leakage) must be checked in each tank, by ‘dipping’ a measuring tape with a lead weight on the end to determine the depth of water and using that to calculate a m³ volume of catch onboard from ullage tables provided by the vessel. One of our roles to know how to perform an ullage measurement, so this was a great opportunity for some training! It’s not necessarily the easiest role to perform on a moving ship but our trainee managed this successfully as the m³ figure derived from their measurements against what the vessel was recording from it’s own electronic sounding equipment was very close indeed.

A second check is performed on the working deck to confirm that firstly, the separator through which the fish is pumped (which allows water to escape but fish to be retained) is welded securely in place and cannot be tampered with and secondly, that the space between the bars of the separator is compliant. By using callipers to measure the spacing between the bars and having a visual check of the separator we were able to confirm that it was indeed complaint and there were no issues.

With the total catch aboard calculated and the inspection team satisfied by the deck operation it was time to inspect the factory and hold areas. The ‘Afrika’ processes her own catch – on this occasion herring – and sorts the fish by size before freezing it into blocks and storing it in their freezer hold until their return to port. With 40 plate freezers aboard, each with a capacity of 52 blocks, and each plate freezer taking about 200 minutes to deep freeze a block, all running 24 hours a day while at sea, this is a huge operation. The ship will expect to stay at sea for approximately 2 weeks at a time, by which time it will have hoped to have filled it holds and return to port for landing.

After inspecting the factory area the inspection team moved down to the freezer hold (with their  gloves firmly on!) to observe the loading operation there. Crew work in the freezer hold for four out of the six hours they are on shift, loading frozen blocks by hand from a conveyor belt into place. The freezer hold is kept at -18 ͨ, or colder to ensure none of the catch spoils and it can be landed in the best possible condition. A welcome relief from the summer sun being enjoyed, but only for a short time!

With the inspection complete and the inspection team satisfied that all was as it should be, it was back to the Bridge of ‘Afrika’ to complete the paperwork. All thanked the 1st Mate and the Captain for taking the time to explain the vessel operation to our trainees who both found the experience valuable in their ongoing training.

With that, it was a call to MPV Jura to confirm that the inspection was complete and to request that the RIB came alongside for disembarking ‘Afrika’.

A positive boarding and training experience and thanks to the Officers and Crew of ‘Afrika’ for being so accommodating throughout.

Further Information

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Sampling and Surveying the Sea Lochs

Thu, 2018-08-02 10:00

Assynt, north west Scotland

Survey: 1118A MRV Alba na Mara

Duration: 27 July – 07 August 2018


  • Day grabs (x 2) – supplied by Marine Scotland Science (MSS)
  • Craib corer – supplied by MSS
  • Drop-down video frame – supplied by Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS)
  • Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) mooring.


The objectives of this survey are to:

  1. Sample sediment in sea lochs (north coast and west coast) using day grab
  2. Sample sediment in sea lochs (north coast and west coast) using Craib corer
  3. Use drop-down video to survey seabed in sea lochs (north coast and west coast)
  4. Sample kelp detritus in sea lochs (north coast; west coast) using day grab
  5. Deploy a mooring with ADCP in the Pentland Firth.

The MRV Alba na Mara is currently at sea amongst the sea lochs of north west Scotland, collecting sediment samples, as part of a research project involving Marine Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the universities of St Andrews and Glasgow, Heriot-Watt University and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).

This project will attempt to advance our understanding of the role of Scotland’s seas as a carbon store (so-called “blue carbon”). It is believed that the sequestration (locking in) of carbon compounds in marine sediments could account for around one-fifth of Scotland’s emissions of greenhouse gases. Improving our understanding of this important carbon sink, especially within our Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area network, is important when assessing the threats to future carbon storage in our seas, such as physical disturbance, increased storminess or a warming ocean.

Currently aboard are Professor William Austin and Dr Craig Smeaton from the University of St Andrews, and Professor Michael Burrows and Alasdair O’Dell from SAMS, along with Marine Scotland Scientists.

William and Craig are looking at the organic material within sediments, to try and quantify the carbon locked away at the bottom of sea lochs, whilst Mike and Alasdair are interested in the role of kelp as a carbon store. The team are taking grab samples of surface sediments, followed by cores of deeper sediments in softer muddy areas of the lochs to examine the biogeochemistry of the samples. Additionally, Alasdair’s PhD involves the use of a drop-down camera system which he designed, and has collected some stunning photographs of the seabed, specifically targeting fragments of decaying seaweed.

The scientists and crew have been very fortunate with some fine weather and the opportunity to visit some places rarely explored by ship, deep into Scotland’s fjord-like sea lochs with stunning mountain scenery and wildlife such as dolphins, porpoises, seals and eagles.

Further Information:

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Storm Frank Makes its Mark in SCObs Monitoring Data

Fri, 2018-07-27 10:55

Aberdeen may be in the midst of a summer heatwave but scientists in Marine Scotland Science (MSS) have seen the footprint of Storm Frank while performing an in-depth quality check of data from the Scottish Coastal Observatory (SCObs) last week.

Storm Frank impacted Scotland from 28th – 30th Dec 2015 bringing wide spread flooding and destruction to many areas in Aberdeenshire. While sampling at the SCObs monitoring station 5 km offshore from Stonehaven had to be suspended due to high winds during this period, when the weather calmed down a clear impact of this storm could be seen when sampling resumed. The saltiness of the surface of the sea was reduced and the concentrations of nutrients (shown here by total oxidised nitrogen (TOxN)) increased as a result of increased river flows following the flooding. The sea became more turbid (measured by “Secchi depth” – a larger depth means we can see through more of the sea) as a result of high winds re-suspending sediment from the sea bed.

Storm Frank GraphThe SCObs site at Stonehaven is the most comprehensive coastal monitoring station in Scotland. Temperature, salinity, nutrients, phytoplankton and zooplankton have been collected weekly since 1997, secchi depths recorded since 2001 and carbonate chemistry measurements made from 2009. Data from this programme is increasing understanding of seasonal and interannual variability in Scottish coastal waters, fulfilling requirements for statutory environmental assessments and providing baseline information from which impacts of environmental change can be identified.

Article by:

Dr Eileen Bresnan, Jenny Hindson,
Margarita Machairopoulou and Pamela Walsham

Further Information:


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Testing the Water with the MRV Scotia

Fri, 2018-07-20 10:30

Survey: 1018S MRV Scotia

Duration: 21-25 July 2018


  1. Deploy an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) drone from Scotia to monitor turbulence in the Pentland Firth over the MeyGen site, at the South end of Stroma.
  2. Record distribution of seabirds/mammals.
  3. Record multi-frequency acoustic data using the on board Simrad EK60 scientific echosounder.
  4. Record data using the on board Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP).
  5. Run the thermosalinograph, taking water and chlorophyll samples throughout the trip for calibration purposes.


It is expected that the route will approximately follow that of the 2016 survey (see Figure 1 below), with any amendments in accord with navigational requirements at the time.1018S figure 1 Scotia survey route in 2016


Departing on the morning of 21 July the MRV Scotia will make its way to the Pentland Firth.  The UAV will be deployed along a fixed transect between Stroma and the mainland, against the prevailing tide. Scotia will follow the drone as near as practicable. At the end of the transect the drone will be recovered and Scotia will proceed round the north of Stroma to repeat the transect. Data will be recorded on the EK60/ADCP to monitor changes in water movements/turbulence.

The “bird boxes” will be used to record bird/mammal sightings.

This survey has previously taken place in June 2016. During that survey self-recording listening devices (drifting Sea Ears) were deployed, tracked and recovered across the MeyGen site from the fast boat based on Scotia. This year, work relating to the drifting Sea Ears will be shore based. During the survey, passage over turbine number two (the South Westerly turbine at the MeyGen site) will be given consideration prior to its removal. If safe to do so, at least one passage will be made over the turbine whilst running the ADCP and EK60.

Further Information:

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Celebrating Science and Year of the Young Person – Lynda Blackadder

Thu, 2018-07-19 10:00

2018 is both the Year of the Engineer and the Year of the Young Person and this month we have another blog about one of our many colleagues who inspire the next generation with their Outreach work.

Meet Lynda Blackadder, an aspiring ballet dance but currently a Fisheries Data Analyst and Modeller in the Coastal and Offshore Fisheries Team at Marine Scotland.

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Lynda Blackadder. I work in the Inshore Fisheries Group and my current research is mainly concerned with the stock assessments for Nephrops norvegicus and Pecten maximus. I take responsibility for the maintenance and development of the inshore survey databases and respond to internal and external data queries. I am also a STEM ambassador and member of the MSS Outreach team.

Why is what you do important?
It’s all about perspective? Nephrops and scallops are both valuable shellfish species and important to Scotland because those fisheries support a lot of industries and jobs. It’s important to protect and manage our fish and shellfish stocks responsibly so that future generations can enjoy them. It’s important to share our knowledge and this is especially pertinent in this “Year of the Young Person”. I also think that it is important to recognise that I “do” much more than the above few sentences. I think I am a pretty good colleague, friend, wife and mum…and so it is important to me that I can juggle all of these things at once!

What’s your career path been – how did you get here?
Standard grades, Highers and CSYS at Glenrothes High School. I started working when I was 13 in a local bottle shop. I got paid £1.50 an hour and it was back breaking work to unload the delivery of crates of beer and wine. My pay got docked if I damaged or smashed anything. It gave me a sense of independence and I enjoyed making my own money. The money helped me pay for scuba diving lessons when I was 15 and that’s when I decided that this was the career for me. I worked part time in Topshop when I was 16 and continued in retail all through University. I obtained a BSc (Hons) Marine Biology and MRes Marine and Fisheries Science at the University of Aberdeen. My project involved working with the fishing gear section at the Marine Lab and I was lucky enough to go aboard MRV Scotia. I enjoyed the work and got on well with everyone; and I think they liked me…as they invited me back for another two trips that year (unpaid I would like to point out!). A job became available in the inshore fisheries group shortly after and I have been very lucky to have very supportive line managers who have helped me to progress my career.

If you weren’t doing this, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
I was always interested in Forensic Science and enjoy crime novels; but seriously doubt I would be able to cope with the real life gory aspects. As a young girl I ballet danced and would love to play piano (it’s still on my bucket list) – it’s a shame that I am not musically gifted and have been described as tone deaf :(. I am actually very thankful for the job that I do and the family and friends I have. I don’t want to be doing anything else…for the moment at least!

What’s your favourite fishy fact?
Did you know that the “Aliens” movies were inspired by a real life deep sea amphipod species? These creatures belong to the Phronima genus and look quite terrifying (albeit they are very small). I was lucky enough to be on a deep sea cruise when we caught a live one and aptly named him “dude in the barrel”. Many hours were spent watching this amazing little thing propel itself around in the inside of a salp. Absolutely fascinating!

What made you decide to be involved in Outreach?
I became involved in Outreach as soon as I started at the lab and used to help John Dunn with various school visits and tours of MRV Scotia. I enjoy speaking to people and am passionate about what I do so it seems natural that I was drawn to this type of work. I became a STEM ambassador and this has only helped to increase my enthusiasm for the subjects and sharing my knowledge and experiences with others.

What do you enjoy most about doing Outreach?
I love speaking to people about my job and working with kids can be hilarious. They ask amazing questions and it’s very rewarding to see how engaged they become. Career events are also great because you can spark an idea or a potential career path that the pupil or parent had never considered. One of the added benefits of doing this type of work is that you get to practice your presenting and communication skills. I definitely think this has increased my confidence and has made an improved difference to how I participate in other aspects of my work.

Would you encourage others to get involved in Outreach too?
Definitely! There is a wide variety of events going on so I am sure that there will be something to suit you if standing in front of a class of 30 kids sends shivers down your spine. We have an Outreach team based at the Marine Lab and we would love for more people to be involved. Please drop us an email or come and have a chat.


Further Information

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Haiku to lemon sole

Tue, 2018-07-17 10:00

If you thought our scientists just did fish, think again… sort of.

The head of Sea Fisheries Programme, Dr Coby Needle, has written this haiku about a lemon sole. It’s not his first foray in to poetry for this particular fish. He wrote an Iambic Pentameter earlier this year too.

It’s fish, Jim, but not as we know it.


F remains steady

As do the current stock trends

Recruitment unclear


Reopen advice?

Proxies and SSB good

So no need to change


Coby Needle, April 2018

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Celebrating the Year of the Engineer with a father and son – Phil Copland

Tue, 2018-07-10 10:00

Phil Copland's motorbike

As we mentioned in our blog in January, 2018 is the Year of the Engineer as well as the Year of the Young Person. Over the course of the year, we’ll be introducing you to some of our incredibly talented engineers, as well as showing your some of their work.

Unusually within our engineering section, we have a father and son team – Phil and Danny Copland. It was too good an opportunity to pass up so this month you’ll hear from dad Phil about what he does (and what it’s like working with his son) and next month, Danny gets his own back!

Who are you and what do you do?

It was May 1974 when the fateful words were uttered “That’s the civil service. That means a job for life!” by my proud mother.

It’s not exactly what a hard-ish living, motorcycle riding 20 year old really wants to hear.

I’m Phil Copland and I’m a civil servant… still, after a smidgeon over 44 years. I work mainly with electronic and acoustic systems and my job title is Acoustic Survey Scientist. In my career I have been Scientist In Charge (SIC) on pelagic stock surveys, seabed mapping and demersal fishing surveys as well as taking part in various ICES working and planning groups.

How did you get here?

My qualifications are a handful of Highers plus an ONC in Electrical and Electronic engineering and a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt at a BSc. I did however get an offer to train with the Scottish national rowing squad which might explain my failure.

I’d answered an advert for DAFS (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland who were offering four posts at ASO (Assistant Scientific Officer) level. I had only applied to work in the Electrical fishing group but was confronted by an interview panel of thirteen people (they had added two more posts between advert and interview). I was offered three posts and chose the Electrical Fishing one.

Most work in the Electrical Fishing (EF) section was field site and vessel based. The field site at Little Loch Broom was situated on the opposite side from any road access and had to be built from scratch with everything being ferried across by rubber boat. “Scientific work” included breaking and transporting rocks, mixing and laying concrete and refurbishing the stone jetty. I reportedly said that “It’s not an ASO you need it’s a JCB”.

Underwater, we dug trenches in the sea bed for fish cages and laid electrical and TV cables and we also moved a 1 tonne diesel generator to the site on a pair of rubber boats using a wooden frame and various block and tackles. That all went horribly wrong and ended in the small hours of the morning in the pitch black with the rubber boats trapped under the generator which was now suspended from a vertical rock face. The more glamorous part of job was scuba diving and driving rubber boats!

Much time was spent working on research and charter vessels, designing and building scientific equipment and electronic circuit boards. It was like being in the boy scouts, I do have knot tying and fieldcraft badges, with the added frisson of possible drowning and/or electrocution.

I continued working in the EF section until the project ended and moved to the Acoustics group. As I was trained as a diver and subsequently had limited imagination and the invunerability of youth, I continued to dive on mobile fishing gears demersal and beam trawls for a number of years until common sense overcame my testosterone level. My year was filled with field work at the Loch Duich site where we installed and removed a raft in the loch annually and sea time was on various vessels taking part in “Stock estimates using acoustic techniques”. In short, bounce sound off fish schools and the more energy that comes back the more are there. Simples! Imagine being asked to estimate the number of worms in your garden and being given 4 hours and a teaspoon. That’s stock estimation.

I hesitate to admit that after 40 years I’m back advising on the new electrical fishery for Ensis ( razorclams) and I really, really wished I’d paid more attention at the time instead of burning the candle at both ends and driving a large motorbike.

Tell us more about your work

We provide support for various groups in the laboratory as well as partner organisations, including the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), the University of Highlands and Islands (UHI) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), by operating multibeam and sidescan systems as well as acoustic positioning units which geo-locate images from drop and towed cameras. We maintain all of the acoustic net monitoring systems used on demersal trawls for our international surveys. Being partially retired, I no longer go to sea, apart from occasional single day training exercises, but in the past I could be away from home for up to 140 days per year.

At the start of my career, promotion for non-degree staff was very much delayed and being “too young” was a valid reason for non-promotion. I recall being criticised for publishing a paper early in my career as this wasn’t expected of staff at the lowest scientific grade. I’m glad to say that things have changed.

I concentrated on the practical aspect of my work and don’t regret that I didn’t “chase” promotion. I felt that I had an exciting and rewarding time as science was very much “can do” and much of what we did was ground breaking. I’m proud that the work that we did at the L. Duich site establishing the target strength of various fish species and species identification using multiple frequencies and broad band acoustic systems is still valid and the basic concepts and techniques are still in use 30 years later.

The large European, Norwegian and American institutes would look closely at the work we were publishing here at the Marine Lab in Aberdeen and this influenced their future work. As an institution, internationally, we punched well above our weight as our staff were innovative, practical and adaptable.

On a personal level my family, Christine Danny and Michael had to cope with my frequent absences because surveys were always during school holidays. I’m proud that they managed to cope so well.

So, what’s it like working with your son?

Danny has a big task ahead as we will shortly lose two out of four acoustic engineers. I’ve worked with countless students and colleagues over the years who had little or no acoustic knowledge and training staff in the use of acoustic systems is what I do. Danny is very realistic and has come in with no illusions as to the steepness of the learning curve in terms of the practicality of maintaining, and deploying equipment and collecting data with our systems. We must be getting on OK as he hasn’t complained to his Mum about me. Yet!

What would you say to any aspiring young engineers?

Engineers in the lab have become a bit of an endangered species. In general we have a top heavy age structure with many of our engineers having been here for decades. We need practical engineers who are prepared to get stuck in and learn from all of their colleagues be they engineers, scientists or sea going officers and deck hands. Our sea going engineers can’t work in isolation. Variety is the spice of life and for a sea going engineer there is nowhere better than the lab. Opportunities abound now for advancement and I would strongly encourage any entrant to take advantage of the myriad of courses that exist to help them progress their careers.

And one fun fact about you?

I’m not a very exciting person and that may be down to my time away from home. Getting home to the family was a holiday in itself and you will find me in the garden or taking the house apart to sort whatever bit has fallen off. However, either due to a flash of rebelliousness or more likely just a post mid-life crisis I have after 40 years, gone back to motorcycling. I am the proud owner of “Princess”, a very shiny, bling laden Honda CB1100 – a modern bike with 70’s retro styling. She is so named as the previous owner did only 165 miles in 3 years and didn’t take her out if it was wet or dusty. I didn’t reveal to them that I live up a long muddy farm road and that she would be going from a catwalk model to working the means streets of Aberdeen. I’m looking forward to some good weather so I can get out and about on her despite the inevitable cleaning required. So, if you see a rotund, stately gentleman, looking like a worried meerkat, on a shiny red bike, wave but DON’T PULL OUT!

Further information

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Scallop Stock Assessment

Fri, 2018-07-06 11:00

Survey: 1018A

Duration: 4-23 July 2018

Fishing Gear: Scallop dredges


  1. To carry out a survey of scallop stocks on the East Coast.
  2. To age, measure and assess shell damage on all scallops caught.
  3. To collect information on by-catch of other commercial fish and shellfish species.
  4. To identify and quantify numbers of starfish species in all dredge tows.
  5. To collect frozen whole scallops for heavy metal testing as part of the OSPAR assessment of hazardous substances in the marine environment.
  6. To carry out camera trials if conditions and time allow.
  7. To record and retain marine litter obtained during the dredging process (monitoring for MSFD).


Figure 1: Survey station locations for scallop dredge survey 1018A

The survey will depart from Fraserburgh on 4 July and after vessel drills, will head for the first station of the survey.

Scallop dredge hauls will be made at sites used on previous surveys as shown in Figure 1. Hauls will be of 30 minutes duration. From each haul, all of the scallops will be measured to the half centimeter below and aged. In addition, numbers and size distribution of commercial fish and shellfish species will be recorded along with scallop shell damage and starfish numbers and species. Scallops (ten individuals per station) will also be collected from selected sites and frozen for heavy metal analysis back at the laboratory. Any litter collected in the dredges will be recorded as set out in the SOP and placed in bags to be disposed of on return to port. Camera trials will be carried out if conditions and time allow – with the aim being to collect footage of the fishing gear while in operation.

The survey will end in Fraserburgh on 23 July 2018 where all equipment and staff will then return to the laboratory.

Further Information:

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Scottish Ocean Climate Status Report 2016 published

Wed, 2018-07-04 10:00

Map showing SCObs stations

A new report by scientists in Marine Scotland that examines the variability and trends in the physical conditions of the seas around Scotland in the last decade and further into the past has been published.

Describing the conditions in 2016, the most recent year for which a full dataset is available, the Scottish Ocean Climate Status report shows that there are complex linkages between the ocean and the atmosphere so there are descriptions of a whole range of oceanographic, meteorological and riverine parameters. Datasets collected as part of the Scottish Coastal Observatory (SCObs) (detailed in the map above) and the Offshore Long Term Monitoring programmes were analysed, alongside acquired meteorological, river flow and modelled data, as well as global metocean ( meteorology and physical oceanography) indices. These can be used to investigate many aspects of general long-term change, as well as shorter-term variability.

The report presents information in relation to the Scottish Marine Regions, as well as larger-scale descriptions (including North Atlantic and global) in order to provide context-setting prevailing conditions. Hence the report contains basic information that will be needed by the regional assessments required under the National Marine Plan, as well as information relevant to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the various climate change related processes in Scotland, such as the Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme.

Around Scotland both air and sea temperatures have warmed at a similar rate to the global pattern of century-scale warming, as reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014. This long term warming is associated with impacts such as rising sea levels, retreating Arctic sea ice and glaciers, and northwards shifts of marine species.

However, the century scale warming we are currently experiencing has not been constant, in reality. There is variability from year to year (inter-annual), from decade to decade (decadal) and between periods of several decades (multi-decadal), in addition to the longer-term trend. Some of this variability is seen just within our region, and some of the variability has been the same across the globe. At a multi-decadal scale, during the 1970-1980 to 2010 warming episode, air and sea temperatures across Scotland warmed at a faster rate than the global average.

The importance of observational time series in characterising long-term climate trends was noted by the Royal Society in a 2017 climate update report1, showing how valuable the long-term monitoring that MSS and others carry out both offshore and in coastal waters is.

1Royal Society (2017). Climate updates: progress since the fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the IPCC.

Further Information

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An Egg Hunt of Large Proportions

Thu, 2018-06-28 10:20

Survey: 0118H MRV Altaire (Part 3)
Duration: 22nd May 2018 – 6th June 2018

This survey was tasked with providing answers to one very simple but, up to now, unanswered question. How much further west of the current survey extent would a mackerel egg survey need to go to secure a mackerel spawning boundary, in other words how far would we have to sample until we found zero eggs?

A similar survey was conducted last year aboard an Irish charter vessel which surveyed all the way out to 57’45N 23’45W and although the abundance of eggs found were low it still fell short of providing a zero boundary. Also it only undertook a single western transect as it had a broader remit which, together with input from the International Ecosystem Survey in the Nordic Seas would provide useful information to establish a Northern spawning boundary during May/June when the mackerel spawning in this Northern region is at its most expanded.

Survey 0118H was therefore tasked with mapping the mackerel spawning activity in the northwestern region, including Rockall and Hatton Bank and further west until a zero boundary was established. This would be completed by deploying the Gulf 7 plankton sampler on a series of transects going east to west and vice versa; heading steadily north up towards Iceland.Survey 0118H Survey track and stations

How far west Altaire had to go to establish this boundary would dictate the Northern extent of the survey, as in addition transit time to and from the survey area was also significant. Altaire departed from Ullapool on the 22nd May at just after midday in near perfect weather conditions and after performing two sets of flowmeter calibrations she continuedMEGS scientists braving the cold in the Arctic Circle South through the Minch before heading West and onwards towards Rockall Bank. Looking after the science onboard, there was very much an international flavour to the survey with scientists from Scotland, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Germany.

Calm conditions were experienced during most of the survey and progress was excellent. The most southerly transect at 55’45N was completed in just over a day and a half with the zero boundary finally being reached at 25’45W; which was well west of Hatton Bank and in fact way over and into the South Iceland Basin. A similar pattern continued further North with the boundary tracking in a northeasterly direction and running parallel with the edge of Hatton Bank.

ADeploying the Gulf 7 plankton sampler on Hatton Bank - 0118H Surveylthough some freshly spawned eggs were observed over the colder and deeper waters of the South Iceland Basin; it was clear that the majority of the spawning activity was taking place on the banks themselves. This pattern continued into the northern reaches of the Iceland basin with egg numbers increasing, together with the temperature, towards the eastern end of the transects located on the fringes of the shallower and warmer Iceland – Faroe – Scotland Ridge .

From there Altaire proceeded west then North; first across the mid-Atlantic Ridge at Reykjanes before surveying up the west coast of Iceland; eventually crossing into the Arctic Circle and deploying the Gulf Sampler at 66’34N and 24’31W.

Whilst surveying northwards up the western side of Iceland calm and clear conditions were experienced as were blue and humpback whales and Orca. Disappointingly, the following day the weather became very cold with thick fog so there was no chance for any scenery shots although we knew that stunning coastline views were close by.

The water temperature at 20m north of the Reykjanes ridge was around 8 degrees Celsius; cooling further to just over 6 degrees by the time we hit the Arctic Circle. We were fairly confident that we would not find any mackerel eggs on this western leg and reassuringly that turned out to be the case. Mackerel do not tend to spawn in water with temperatures much below 8.5 degrees and so we had to wait until midway along the last transect before we started picking up mackerel eggs again south of Iceland.

There were 83 deployments, in total, with four flowmeter calibration runs and a further 79 plankton deployments. During the survey Altaire covered somewhere in the region of 3400nm. The survey was very successful in defining a hard spawning boundary in the northwest albeit Altaire was required to survey out to nearly 27 degrees west to secure it. It was also successful in describing the bigger picture; specifically the temperature profile within that region with the warmer temperatures observed on the flanks of the offshore banks yielding significant numbers of mackerel eggs whereas the colder water located over the deeper basins yielding very few or no spawning.

Interestingly on the sampled locations, where we also sampled last year, we were able to make a direct comparison and noticed a significant difference in the surface temperatures with those from this year being typically 1- 1.5 degrees Celsius colder. These data together with the additional information provided by the Nordic surveys will be extremely useful and will inform the planning process for the triennial mackerel egg survey in 2019 where Marine Scotland Science plays a lead role.

Finally , a massive thank you to all of the crew on the MFV Altaire for all the help, advice and assistance provided during the survey which was invaluable and ultimately ensured the overall success of the survey.

Further Information:

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Live and Acoustic with Herring and the Sprats

Tue, 2018-06-26 10:13

Survey: 0918S

Duration: 28 June – 20 July 2018

Sampling Gear:

  • Midwater trawls PT160 x 3;
  • Demersal trawl (BT237);
  • Seabird 19plus CTD;
  • GoPro cameras x 2 with underwater housings and lights; and
  • Scanmar trawl eye sensor.


  • To conduct an acoustic survey to estimate the abundance and distribution of herring in the north western North Sea and north of Scotland between 58º30’-62ºN and from the shelf edge to 2ºE, excluding Faroese waters.
  • To obtain biological samples by trawling with pelagic and demersal trawl for echosounder trace identification.
  • To obtain samples of herring and sprat for biological analysis, including age, length, weight, sex, maturity and ichthyophonus infection throughout the survey area.
  • Collect samples and data for stock identity determination for herring caught west of 4 ºW (photos and otoliths for morphometric stock ID analysis and tissue samples for genetic analysis).
  • To test feasibility of using GoPro cameras mounted in the net and on a dropframe to further aid in species identification in the echogram scrutiny process.
  • To obtain hydrographic data for comparison with the horizontal and vertical distribution of herring and sprat.


All fishing gear and scientific equipment will be loaded onto the Scotia in Aberdeen. The vessel will depart from Aberdeen on 28 June and, after required vessel drills, make passage to Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands, where calibration of all echosounders will take place (approximately 8-12 hours at anchor). Crew training and trial deployments of fishing gear will take place on the way as required by the fishing master.Figure 1 Transects to be completed by Scotia 0918S

After calibration the vessel will make passage to the start of the first transect to the east and follow a pattern of parallel transects running east/west, at normal steaming speed (10.5 knots), progressing northwards. The whole survey area is bounded by 58º30’-62ºN and 02ºE to the 200 m contour. Transect spacing is 15 nm. This may be adapted during the survey to maximize area coverage given the time available. The proposed survey design is shown in Figure 1.

A 24 hour mid survey break will take place on 11 July to allow for the transfer of staff and to comply with the WTD policy. A calibration will be conducted around the mid survey break in a suitable location or in Orkney at the end of the survey if time permits.

Acoustic data will be collected at four frequencies (18, 38, 120 and 200 kHz) between 03:00 and 23:00 hours. Fish shoals seen on the echosounder will be identified using either a pelagic trawl (PT160) or the demersal trawl (BT237). Survey trawling operations will be carried out between two and four times per day at any time between 03:00 and 23:00. Samples of all species caught will be measured for length to partition the echo integral amongst species and size classes for target strength functions. Individual herring, sprat and mackerel will also be weighed to establish a length-weight relationship. Otoliths will be collected from a sub-sample of the herring according to the following length stratified scheme to determine age; two per 0.5 cm class below 22 cm, five per 0.5 cm class from 22.5-27.5 cm and ten per 0.5 cm class for 28.0 cm and above. For each herring in the subsample the state of maturity, gonad weight, liver weight, whole and gutted weight, presence of food in the stomach as well as the presence of Icthyophonus infection will be recorded. The maturity scale used throughout the survey will be the Scottish eight stage scale. Where sprat is encountered five per 0.5cm length class will be sampled for age, weight, sex and maturity.

In the area west of 4ºW, in addition to the above described sampling, random sampling of 120 fish above 24 cm length will be carried out for each haul with photographs taken for morphometric stock identification analysis and a tissue sample taken for genetic analysis. Otoliths from these fish will, subsequent to aging, be made available for morphometric analysis. After photographing them, and where possible, these randomly sampled fish will make up part of the standard sampling for herring. Additional fish will be collected to ensure the relevant numbers of fish are collected per strata for acoustic data analysis.

A GoPro camera and underwater lights will be mounted in the trawl as required to aid in species identification in the echogram scrutiny process by delivering additional information on time of capture of and composition of the catch. A GoPro camera may also be deployed manually on a small drop frame on echotraces to investigate the feasibility of using this technique to verify species composition of echosounder traces in untrawlable areas. This exercise will be conducted with the vessel in DP.

Where required, a vertical hydro dip will be carried out immediately following a trawl, this will require the vessel to use its DP system to remain on station. The decision to carry out vertical dips will be based on the requirement to achieve one station in each ICES rectangle.

The ships thermosalinograph will be run continuously to obtain sea surface temperature and salinity throughout the survey area.

Further Information:

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Today is the day of the Seafarer

Mon, 2018-06-25 10:00

Today is the ‘Day of the Seafarer’ and to celebrate, we wanted to share a very special poem penned by our resident bard, net rigger and father of two Matt Kinghorn.

It’s a little something for all of you who work at sea.

Day of the Seafarer

It’s not easy you know, going to sea,
Maybe for some but not for me.

I grew up on the coast hearing waves hit the shore,
The wonders of the ocean impossible to ignore.

My Dad, a skipper, already under its spell,
Fishing all year, his boat dancing in the swell.

Painting blue on the deck and white on the rail,
Hand in hand with my father longing to set sail.

“Wait until you’re older” Mum said “then you can”,
I’d be just like my hero I thought, my Dad, the fisherman.

Like any other trip, he filled his boat with supplies,
We hugged, we kissed, we said our goodbyes.

But he never came home, I never saw him again,
And it still hurts as much now as it did back then.

Many years have since past, that little boy has grown,
I have a wife and two daughters, a beautiful family of my own.

I go to sea now too, I find it hard when we’re apart,
But my family sail with me in my thoughts and in my heart.

I’ll so often find myself gazing over the side,
Wishing my father could have met them and talked of us with pride.

It’s not easy you know, going to sea,
But I’m just trying to be the best dad that I can be.

Further Information:


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Introducing the European Marine Biological Resource Centre

Mon, 2018-06-25 10:00

On the 19th of June 2018, the European Marine Biological Resource Centre celebrated its adoption as a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (EMBRC-ERIC).

Hosted by France and based in Paris, EMBRC-ERIC is a pan-European Research Infrastructure (RI) for marine biology and ecology research, providing state of the art facilities, technology platforms and advanced services to study marine organisms and ecosystems. Among its objectives, it is to enable new technologies and marine biological models to further our investigation capabilities for life-science breakthrough discoveries, and to support a modern approach to long-term marine ecological monitoring efforts. “EMBRC ERIC is a truly multidisciplinary effort and a driver in the development of blue biotechnologies, including at regional level, supporting both fundamental and applied research activities for sustainable solutions in the food, health and environmental sectors.” – said Mr. Jean-David MALO, Director of Open Innovation and Open Science, European Commission – DG Research and Innovation.

EMBRC-ERIC has nine founding Members who operate as “nodes”: The Kingdom of Belgium, the French Republic, the Hellenic Republic, the State of Israel, the Italian Republic, the Kingdom of Norway, the Portuguese Republic, the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Marine Scotland, under the Scottish Government banner, is delighted to be part of the UK Node along with the British Antarctic Survey, the Marine Biological Association of the UK, the University of St Andrews, Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland (MASTS) and the University of the Highlands and Islands (through the Scottish Association of Marine Science).

Further information

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Multi-tasking with the Scotia: Part 2

Fri, 2018-06-22 14:15

The second week on the Nephrops TV survey on Scotia was considerably less eventful than the first – thankfully!

The work progressed well having travelled through the North Minch recovering and then deploying another COMPASS cetacean mooring at the Shiants, and then working down past Uist and Barra, replacing a third COMPASS mooring en route.

After a trawl in the evening of the 11th the vessel headed for Stanton Bank where a further two COMPASS moorings were recovered and a replacement deployed. Eight TV stations were surveyed whilst at Stanton Bank using this rare opportunity of visiting the area (and the unusually calm conditions) to gather Nephrops abundance data, the first time in over 10 years.

When starting to finalise the arrangements for the half landing, it became apparent that there were no available berths in Campbeltown. Following several calls to various ports, Belfast was the only port able to provide a berth on Friday 15th, leaving the Clyde to be surveyed over the weekend when the trawlers would not be working. This is an advantage for the survey as the seabed is not disturbed as much as when the trawlers are fishing thus improving the visibility on the seabed.

Working out that there was sufficient time before going to port, the vessel steamed north east to Skye and began working through the remaining TV stations in the South Minch before a storm arrived on the night of the 13th. With all but five stations completed and having carried out a trawl, the vessel headed for Colonsay to shelter and remained there till midday on the 14th. Once the weather eased the vessel travelled through the Sound of Islay and started working in the Sound of Jura, where a number of stations were relocated due to the density of creels. Late that evening TV operations stopped to allow time to steam to Belfast for an 8 am arrival, which left five stations in off Jura for the return leg of the survey.

After a welcome break in the city, the vessel had a short steam north to the first station in the Clyde on the 16th. Work began around Ailsa Craig in flat calm, sunny conditions and after a trawl later that day, Scotia headed for the Kilbrannan Sound on the west side of Arran for daylight on the 17th. From here the vessel worked north towards Loch Fyne and then down the east side of Arran, with the remainder of the Clyde TV stations and a trawl to be completed by midday on the 18th.


Further Information:

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Celebrating Science and Year of the Young Person – Julia Black

Thu, 2018-06-21 10:00

2018 is both the Year of the Engineer and the Year of the Young Person and this blog is about one of our many colleagues who are inspiring the next generation with their Outreach work.

Meet Julia Black a Molecular Geneticist at Marine Scotland Science. Gummy bears and strawberry laces in science! Read on to find out more.

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Julia Black, a molecular geneticist, have been working in the MSS Marine Laboratory since 1999, mostly on the diagnosis of fish and shellfish pathogens.

Why is what you do important?
Detection of disease in farmed and wild fish and shellfish leads to improvements in and the healthy maintenance of Scotland’s aquaculture and fisheries. We often have to process a lot of samples in a short period of time to give a rapid result.

What’s your career path been – how did you get here?
Did a degree in Genetics at Aberdeen University, worked in the tissue typing (organ transplant matching) department of the Blood Transfusion Service for over 5 years and then got a job here at the Marine Lab.

If you weren’t doing this, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
Travel agent or travel guide writer – I love to plan a holiday!

What’s your favourite fishy fact?
So many – swimming goggles can be made from fish scales. Scales can also be found in some lipsticks while ketchup originally contained fish (mainly anchovies).

What made you decide to be involved in Outreach?
Schools are struggling for resources – being able to go into school or help with work placement students gives the children opportunity to experience or learn something completely new.

What do you enjoy most about doing Outreach?
Going into primary school classes – the enthusiasm is infectious, makes you look at your own subject with new eyes. And you can get asked some very interesting questions (some of which are best not to repeat!!). I often do what I call Sweetie Science – raspberry jelly ‘agar’ plates with hundreds and thousands to represent bacteria and DNA made from gummy bears and strawberry laces.

Would you encourage others to get involved in Outreach too?
Absolutely, I went into one school with a colleague – the children were initially not very engaged, as the rest of their class was on a residential trip. But by the end of the session, we had them all looking down microscopes and competing to build the best wind turbine from pencils and cereal packets. Events like the Doors Open Day in Stonehaven are great too – so many people coming in who may otherwise have never engaged with Marine Scotland before.

Further Information

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What’s at our Disposal? The latest from the research vessel Alba na mara

Wed, 2018-06-20 10:00

Survey: 0918A

Duration: 18 June – 1 July 2018

Sampling Gear: TV drop frame, TV winch and cable, 2 x day grabs and RoxAnn.


  1. To undertake grab, underwater television (UTV) and RoxAnn surveys of sea disposal sites and assess the condition of the seabed, identify the predominant benthic epifauna species, and the distribution of man-made debris. Some of the disposal sites are added as contingency.
  2. The disposal sites identified for survey are:Ullapool, Isle of Eigg, Canna, LochMaddy, Stornoway, Lochinver, Scrabster, Scrabster Extension, Thurso, Wick, Fraserburgh, Aberdeen, Stonehaven, Arbroath, Montrose.In addition, a potential site at Uig may be surveyed between Ullapool and Isle of Eigg sites.It is not anticipated that all sites will be surveyed. However, the list allows for contingencies based on weather conditions.
  3. Sediment samples for Objectives 1 will be analysed for chemical and physical parameters.
  4. Drop-down TV survey of Caithness – Moray cable, working from north (Noss Head end) to south (Portgordon end).


Scientific staff and equipment will be transported to Ullapool for loading the vessel and set-up selected survey equipment. The Alba na Mara will depart Ullapool as soon as possible on 18 June, and proceed to the most proximal sea disposal site to start the work programme outlined in Objective 1. Each sea disposal site will be surveyed in turn, subject to weather forecast, moving through the sites listed in Objective 2. The scientific crew change, will occur on 25 June at a port TBC. The Alba na Mara will then continue with the remaining sites detailed in Objective 2. The survey of the C-M cable, as outlined in Objective 4, will be by drop-down TV survey and last a maximum of three days…

Once sites listed in Objective 2 and 4 have been surveyed, Alba na Mara will proceed to the unloading port detailed above.

Further Information:

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