Saturday, July 7, 2012
Pathway to the Sea
The days before we set sail are spent loading the ship with gear and equipment that will be needed for shark and Ulua fishing, handling and tagging. Material and tools for mooring construction and deployment are loaded and secured.
Our morning starts at 0600 at the Honolulu Fish Auction at Pier 38 in Honolulu Harbor. Each morning at 0400 the vessels of the Hawaii long-lining fleet offload the catch form their weeks out at sea. Yellowfin and bigeye tuna are the majority of the fish that come in. Depending on the season, location and depth you can also find lots of mahi mahi, opah, billfish, bottom fish such as the Opakapaka and Uku, and deep sea such as the monchong. Long rows of the fish are laid out in a large warehouse that is kept at a low temperature. Very reminiscent of the fish market in Japan, the Honolulu Fish Auction is the only commercial fish auction in the United States. We rummage arm-deep through dumpster bins that are loaded with tuna heads and fish carcasses that didn’t stay fresh on the boats. The tuna heads are the prized bait pieces we go for, the workers at the auction sometimes hand us the cut off heads from the large tuna they process. Going through a large tote full of large dead fish and tuna heads is not for the faint of heart; the smell of dead fish is made more pungent with the dripping blood and oily juices. You always get some or a lot of fish blood/juice or flakes of flesh on you. With our loaded bounty of tuna heads and whole mahi mahi we head to the University Marine Center at Snug Harbor to load our fishing gear and mooring supplies. Our lab keeps a shipping container full of fishing and shark tracking supplies in the harbor. The University of Hawaii fleet is docked here as well.
The NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai (R 334) is home-ported at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor along with her sister ships the Ka'imimoana and Oscar Elton Sette. The ship was laid down in 1984 as a US Navy Military Sealift Command Stalwart-Class ocean surveillance ship USNS Vindicator (T-AGOS-3) by the Tacoma Boat Building Company in Tacoma, Washington. She was then transferred to the US Coast Guard in 1993 and then later transferred to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and refitted as a research vessel in 2001 and was renamed the Hi’ialakai which means “embracing pathways to the sea”. The ship is outfitted for intensive scientific diving operations with a diver locker and fill station, a 3-person recompression chamber for immediate diver decompression treatment, and five small crafts that can be launched amidships to transport teams of divers to working sites. To learn more about the NOAAS Hi’ialakai andUSN Vindicator visit: http://www.moc.noaa.gov/hi/ and http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/66/6603.htm.
There is a lot of activity around the ship as scientists, crewmembers, NOAA officers and longshoremen prep the ship and continue loading supplies and equipment for the voyage while going over cruise plans and itinerary. Our departure week falls on a particularly busy time for all of Pearl Harbor. The United States Navy hosts and administers the largest multi-national joint warfare exercise Rim of Pacific Exercise, (RIMPAC) on a biannual basis during June and July in Honolulu, HI. An awesome display of dozens of ships can be seen docked in Pearl Harbor and throughout the greater Honolulu area. An impressive view of the USS Nimitz (CVN 68), the flagship of the carrier strike group, can be seen with her squadrons of various aircraft from the bridge going to Ford Island. During the exercise the USS Nimitz will be running on biofuel, making her the flagship of the “Great Green Fleet” as an effort for a more environmentally friendly Navy. More info about RIMPAC and the participating ships can be found at: http://www.cpf.navy.mil/rimpac/2012/about/ , and http://www.naval-technology.com/features/featurerimpac-2012-vessels-aircraft-countries/ .
After we loaded our mooring and tagging supplies and stocking the ship’s walk-in freezer with totes full of tuna heads, we headed to the NOAA building to receive a briefing on the significance of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to Hawaiian culture. Information on that subject are well publicized on the official website for the monument: http://www.papahanaumokuakea.gov/heritage/welcome.html