Vis-a-thon 2020

You Can't Count What You Can't See

Maggie Heinichen

Masters Student, University of Rhode Island, Graduate School of Oceanography


Vivian Charlesworth

Maggie's work is on the food web of Narragansett Bay with a focus on the fish and invertebrates in the middle and higher trophic levels. Her oceanography research is working towards an integrated environmental-ecological model of Narragansett Bay.

Maggie Heinichen, Initial Proposal Note

Fisheries is a unique field compared to other natural resource management in that you never really know how many fish there are. Trees, livestock, birds, and other organisms can all be counted in a straightforward manner. But that is simply not the case with fish. When you go to count fish you really only see the water.

Process Overview

From Top to Bottom

Photograph of Herring School The herring school is the inspiration for the video as I like the look of the many silverfish. I’m not sure exactly what type of fish this is but it looks like part of the herring family, and herrings are an important resource in New England bringing this project closer to home.

Net Flume This photo was actually taken in a net flume, I believe it’s called, where trawl nets are tested in a scaled tank. These are still massive nets, it’s like looking through a glass wall in a swimming pool but it allows for clear water and the net to be highlighted. I liked this angle of looking down the mouth of the trawl because this is how it would actually go through the water.

Fishing Net I wanted to figure out how to bring these photos together for the idea that the trawl lets you ‘see’ what’s really in the water. Finding trawl photos was actually one of the most difficult parts of this process as the nets used in real life are huge, much larger than can be captured in a single photo and they are generally in deep and murky water making it very difficult to see the net in real life.

One of the main sampling methods is to use trawls or other nets to capture fish. Then there are standard extrapolation procedures to get a measure of abundance. Fisheries management groups rely heavily on these net surveys as a source of information for stock status. That idea was what started the project’s plan for using a net to ‘see’ the fish.

Process Overview

From Top Left to Clockwise

Water Photography The water photo is a classic computer background type image but I love it because it’s what a lot of people think of when they think of the ocean.

Screenshots of Photoshop There was a lot of work on the net. I did a lot of editing, masking, and brightening to really make it pop. This is a screenshot of one of my intermediate steps. I also had to change the mesh sizes in the middle of the net enlarging them so that it would be easier to see the fish underneath.

Water Photography I took these two water photos and combined them with the net in photoshop to get the final water background. I liked the light in the first one and the bubbles in the second one. Both hint at the surface of the water, which is the interface between the realm that people are in and the one where the fish are. Plus the water is much more dynamic at the surface than the deep.

Process Video Made in Adobe Premier

Working with Adobe Photoshop and Premiere, Maggie created a looping video using images and audio to simulate the experience of fisheries sampling, while considering the concept of the ‘net’ as a grid that can conceal and reveal what you are able, or allowed, to see. Maggie used a collection of images and sound, both from her own archive and sourced from other resources, to convey what is happening in an impacted ecosystem.

You Can't Count What You Can't See, Final Video

Tools Used in the Project

Adobe Photoshop Adobe Premiere


© You Can't Count What You Can't See, 2020

This material is based upon work supported in part by the National Science Foundation under EPSCoR Cooperative Agreement #OIA-1655221.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.