To the Editor:
Have you ever heard of a fish called a cusk? If you haven’t, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Cusk are close cousins of the cod sometimes accidentally caught in lobster traps. When the traps are hauled, the pressure decreases, causing the fish to get barotrauma (or the ‘bends’ as it’s called when divers come to the surface too quickly).
Jocelyn Runnebaum, a marine biologist at the School of Marine Sciences at the University of Maine, informed us about the problem. Now we’re informing you.
Cusk are a very close relative to the cod. Cusk have single dorsal and rear fins, have a single barbell under their chin and are yellowish brown in color. They also are bottom dwellers that like to hide in rocks along the sea floor; they typically feed on small crustaceans but are sometimes drawn to bait the lobstermen use in their traps.
An average cusk weighs around 7 pounds and is between 1 and 2 feet long. Cusk are fished commercially by trawlers and longliners but are not regulated by the Maine Department of Marine Resources or NOAA.
Cusk prefer moderately deep waters between 300-400 feet, but can be found in shallower depths.
Runnebaum came and talked to our class about cusk and how they are a species of concern. She requested the help of our class to determine a better way of collecting data from fishermen that have volunteered to help her with her research. Cusk experience barotrauma when brought to the surface by fishing gear. We researched barotrauma in cusk, and we looked into how we can help get data from the fishermen. Some fishermen send cusk back down in their lobster traps.
Fishermen are still collecting data for this project. But what Runnebaum and the fishermen have found so far is that cusk survive at least 60 percent of the time if returned to the ocean inside the lobster traps.
If you are a lobsterman, you can start by putting the cusk back into the trap before sending the trap back down. This reverses the process of barotrauma. Also, if you are a lobsterman, you can get involved with this research. The goal is to figure out different ways to “recompress” the cusk (get them back down to depth) that are easy for fishermen and make it easier for cusk to survive. If you are a citizen who doesn’t own a lobster boat, then you can help by spreading awareness.
Tammy Crossman-Turner’s sixth-grade science class
Tremont Consolidated School