We've just been led into a warehouse that opens onto the dock, where the 180-foot NOAA research vessel Delaware II is waiting.
First NOAA expert John Stein shows us a large map decorated with little black crosses that represent the spots where NOAA's fleet has taken seafood samples since April 28 – ranging all the way from the tip of Texas to the end of the Florida panhandle. In some cases, they have done sampling to gather baseline data; in others, missions were aimed at determining whether specific areas could be reopened to fishing.
Today the boat has brought in pelagic – or deep sea – fish are on the sniffing menu, specifically blackfin tuna, yellowfin tuna and mahi mahi.
NOAA is doing more testing of these species because little is known about what is happening to fish that live far offshore and travel long distances, and because these fish represent a lot of money for sport and commercial fishing operations.
"Our focus is on commercially important species," said Calvin Walker, a NOAA toxicologist.
The crew of the Delaware II unloaded about 10 frozen fish, each about 4 feet long and wrapped in black plastic and duct taped to prevent contamination. They are piled on a cart on the dock, where photographers and film crews crowd around to shoot what looks like a small pile of black cordwood.
Now we're heading back into the building for a demonstration of the testing procedures.