GCRL – Conservation Award /IFFF
The International Federation of Fly Fishers (IFFF) recently presented The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory with its Conservation Award. The award is given annually to “individuals, groups or organizations that have made extraordinary contributions to the conservation of our fisheries’ resources."
As noted in the nomination form by Kyle Moppert, president, Gulf Coast Council, IFFF, “The GCRL is more than deserving of recognition by the Federation for their 40-plus years of diligently working to restore striped bass along the Gulf Coast and their contributions to basic science and knowledge of striped bass everywhere. Their marine aquaculture program is devoted to developing technologies for environmentally sustainable approaches to marine aquaculture and marine stock enhancement, including cobia, shrimp, red snapper, spotted sea trout and specifically their Striped Bass Restoration Program, which is of reference for this award. For their decades of service to all who believe that native fish should swim freely in the waters of our streams, rivers and marine environments, and to all who benefit from an improved natural environment, the GCRL deserves recognition with this award.”
Once common to coastal rivers and estuaries of the northern Gulf of Mexico, striped bass declined and nearly vanished in the 1960s. GCRL began turning that decline around in 1967 with a program focused on restoring striped bass (Morone saxatilis) in coastal waters along the Mississippi coast. For more than 30 years, GCRL project personnel have annually released 100,000 or more juvenile stripers into Mississippi coastal rivers in early summer. Another 20,000 of the two-inch fish were then placed them into the empty tanks where they grew to about six inches before being tagged and released in the fall. GCRL’s striped bass restoration project was supervised by Larry Nicholson. “It is an understatement to say that I am honored by this recognition,” said Nicholson. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my four-plus decades of working to restore striped bass to the coastal tributaries of Mississippi. Although we didn’t succeed in creating a self-sustaining population, we did succeed in creating a recreational fishery that has made hundreds of anglers happy, and I have had the great pleasure of hearing numerous fishing-stories recounting their landing trophy size stripers. This award is like the icing on a great big cake.”
F.J. Eicke of Coastal Conservation Association, Mississippi, noted in a letter of support for GCRL, “Dr. Nicholson has been the exemplar of this program from the start, has shared his knowledge and excitement with the recreational angling public, and in the process mentored a number of graduate students who have gone on to careers in marine science. When literally destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and nearing the end to his academic/research career, Dr. Nicholson persevered and the program was regenerated and prospered. He remains active to this date, proving that ‘Old Salts’ do not go away but live on.”
In another letter of support for GCRL, Jeff Deuschle, president of the Historic Ocean Springs Saltwater Fly Fishing Club (HOSSFLY) says, “I would like to try to impart the deep sense of conservation that pervades not only their striped bass program, but most everything that they do. It is their involvement and outreach to the community which transforms what might be sterile and esoteric science into usable and actionable participation on the part of the public.”
The IFFF also recognized Jim Franks, GCRL’s senior research scientist with the Center for Fisheries Research and Development. Jim was presented with the Tarpon Fly Plate as a token of appreciation and commitment from the Gulf Coast Council (GCC) of IFFF.
The GCC members, officers, and board hope this serves as a visible reminder of the bond which establishes the GCRL as their primary conservation partner. To this end, the GCC donated 50 percent of the profits from their 2014 Fly Fair to GCRL. This donation will be utilized to help fund marine education programming at the Marine Education Center.
The IFFF is a 46-year-old international non-profit organization dedicated to the betterment of the sport of fly fishing through conservation, restoration and education. The Federation of Fly Fishers and its councils is the only organized advocate for fly fishers on a regional, national and international level. Today the FFF has grown to 16 councils, approximately 225 clubs, and 13,000 individual members. Its goal is to support fisheries conservation and educational programs for all fish and all waters. Anywhere fly fishers have an interest; the FFF can and does play a role. The motto of the IFFF is "Conserving, Restoring, Educating through Fly Fishing," a.k.a. “We are haunted by waters, so we chose to make a difference for the fish that live in them.”
GCRL’s Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center recently hosted a series of tours for Ocean Springs High School (OSHS) students who are part of a unique aquaculture class. OSHS is the first school in the state to offer marine aquaculture as part of its marine biology department. The program began when OSHS teacher Bryan Butler and Tiffany Hodge, director of the OSHS Career and Technical Center, were approached by a representative from the Mississippi Department of Education with the idea of implementing the program on campus. With an initial grant of some $110,000 from the Career & Technology Department of the Mississippi Department of Education, two greenhouses have been constructed and supplies purchased to get this program off the ground.
There are currently three classes taught by Butler. Each class has approximately fifteen students. The curriculum covers a range of topics including the concept of aquaculture and system design and maintenance, fish health and disease, the business and economics of aquaculture, and career opportunities in the field. There was such an interest in these first aquaculture classes that strict criteria had to be put in place to choose which students would get to fill the 45 spots. Only a portion of those who take the first year of classes will be eligible to take the second year of classes, so performance and attention to detail are paramount on the students minds.
Bryan Butler, the Marine Biology teacher who got this program off the ground, is not your ordinary teacher. Butler was voted OSHS Teacher of the Year last year and was asked by the 2014 senior class to be the chosen speaker at their graduation ceremony. His commitment to his students and their success is evident in the interactions with them. He has worked alongside the hatchery personnel at the Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center and worked as an instructor at the Marine Education Center’s Sea Camp during the summer months. In a statement from the aquaculture students about the program and it’s importance, the students say “Ocean Springs high school is attempting to spark interest in the future of our seafood industries, by introducing aquaculture/aquaponics early these students will see the benefits of growing their own fish and plants, and potentially to make a change to significantly impact our whole country’s future.“
The students were treated to an insider's look at the whole aquaculture operation. Employees Michael Lee and David Butler (father of Bryan) explained how the hatchery works and answered the students' questions. Each class enjoyed their time at the Cedar Point campus with the anticipation that they would be returning. Hatchery personnel plan to allow these students to observe and assist during future tag and release events.
GCRL hosted Coast Girls Scouts on Saturday, October 18, for the launch of a new Gulf Awareness Patch. The newly introduced patch is focused on teaching the girls about the importance of preserving the ecosystem of the Gulf Coast. The event was a partnership between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Girl Scouts of Greater Mississippi, and GCRL’s Marine Education Center.
Young scouts from across the state were invited to take part in a series of activities designed to develop an increased awareness of the need for ocean stewardship.
Participants learned various methods of testing water quality and how to use a seine net to collect specimens from the Gulf waters. A lesson on climate change highlighted the difference every individual can make in maintaining the quality of our environment. Upon completion of the day's events, each participant was awarded their Gulf Awareness Patch.
On hand for the launch event were Ben Scaggs, EPA’s Gulf of Mexico Program Office Director; Lisa Frank, Program Director for the Girl Scouts of Greater Mississippi; and Chris Snyder, GCRL’s Marine Education Center Director. "We were pleased to work with the USM graduate students, as they provided great role models for the target audience," said Ben Scaggs. Scouts earned their patches by participating in five activities that taught them how climate change affects water quality and the animals that live there.
The Gulf Awareness Patch will be used as a tool for outreach and education and can be earned throughout the year at a variety of events such as this one. To learn about other events such as this, please visit the events schedule page of the Girl Scouts of Greater Mississippi.
The Marine Education Center will offer a new three-day Saltwater Fly Fishing program next summer that builds on their popular "how-to" fishing series and summer camp programs. The new program will provide students in grades 7 though 12 a complete introduction to the basics of saltwater fly fishing in the Mississippi Sound. The initial session will take place on July 20-22, 2015.
Participants will learn how to rig a fly rod and reel, cast, tie knots, build leaders, and tie their own flies. MEC educators will teach students where to look for fish and how to surf fish, sight cast, and successfully land saltwater species like Spotted Seatrout, Red Drum, and Southern Flounder. The program will include both classroom and on-the-water sessions.
What's Next for Dr. Overstreet?
In July, GCRL's Dr. Robin Overstreet was honored by the American Society of Parasitologists with their Eminent Parasitologist Lectureship Award, which recognizes "Eminence and international visibility for a substantial contribution to parasitology over a substantial period of time." Looking back on Dr. Overstreet's 45-year career in marine parasitology and pathobiology, it's easy to see why he was selected for the honor. His work includes 300 peer-reviewed papers, direct research funding of 20 million dollars, collaborative project funding of 50 million dollars, and service as affiliate faculty or the equivalent at 13 institutions of higher learning around the world. To date, fellow scientists have honored Dr. Overstreet by naming 27 newly discovered species of parasites for him. In addition to parasitology, Dr. Overstreet has conducted research on viruses, cancer, and pathological alterations that afflict humans and fish, as well as aquaculture issues.
Dr. Overstreet retired from GCRL in February 2014 and you might think that he would slow down and take a well-deserved break from work. You'd be wrong. Instead, he's simply altering his path a bit and forging ahead. Dr. Overstreet returned to GCRL this summer as Professor Emeritus, working without compensation and donating his time to GCRL and Southern Miss. With four dozen scientific papers in progress and three Ph.D. students, he shows no signs of reducing his pace. When asked about his plans, he responded, "I'll be focusing more attention on my graduate students and their work, and I want to work on collections I have made throughout the world, including Australia, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. There are about 50,000 specimens that date back to 1963."
Given Dr. Overstreet's intense and wide-ranging curiosity, new projects are certain to be added. "Things just seem to pop up," he says. Parasitology Lab technician Jean Jovanovitch-Avillar observed, "You never know what's going to come through the door. Dr. Overstreet is the "go-to guy" for parasitologists and other scientists around the world. He considers support for other researchers and community service to be innate parts of being a good scientist, and his sense of community is global."
People who have worked with Dr. Overstreet describe him as passionate about science and intensely curious. They admire his problem solving orientation and the way he combines the scientific method with common sense and logic. One interesting example centered on a series of mysterious deaths of brown pelicans in the inner basin of the Ocean Springs Boat Harbor back in 2003. Brown pelicans were rare and endangered at the time, so the deaths were cause for substantial concern. Locals suspected disease, parasites, pathogens, and pollution as probable causes and Dr. Overstreet was asked to investigate. Upon collecting and examining several specimens, he quickly observed that each bird exhibited scorching of the flesh and feathers from one wing to another and other signs of electrocution. A visit to the harbor revealed that the birds were perching on power lines near the fish cleaning station, waiting for scraps from fishermen cleaning their catch. When they flapped away from their perch, the birds' wing tips closed the circuit between two power conductors with fatal results. A call to the power company brought a crew out to separate the wires and the problem was solved.
"Fifty percent of the animals on Earth are parasites," Dr. Overstreet observed, "and essentially all the rest are hosts." Many parasites move from one species of animal to another in various developmental stages of their lives, from marsh snails to fish or crabs to raccoons or birds in which they mature, for example. Some can take multiple paths through host species, depending on conditions in their environment. Hosts often harbor multiple species of parasites; seventy or more occur in local mosquitofish and croakers, for example. Parasites are an integral part of the web of life in any marine or terrestrial community and it's impossible to study and understand parasites without studying and understanding their hosts. That interconnectedness also means that parasites can be used to make conclusions about the biology or health of other animals and even entire ecosystems. Regarding local concerns, Dr. Overstreet has investigated how parasites can serve as indicators of recovery in ecosystems after disturbances such as hurricanes and oil spills.
Any conversation with Dr. Overstreet about his work is almost certain to pique the listener’s curiosity, incite questions, and maybe raise an eyebrow, too. In his quiet way, he casually mentions experiences that could easily form the basis for an hour or two of discussion for each. He might speak of spending a week in Russia finally meeting face-to-face with colleagues that he had had considerable correspondence. Perhaps you'd hear about his correspondence with Masahito, Prince Hitachi, the younger brother of current Emperor Akihito of Japan about tumors in Medaka (a Japanese fish similar to our killifish) and then having him and the former finance minister as tour guides in the cancer hospital where the Prince conducted research; Overstreet was in Japan to present papers in Tokyo and Sapporo. Have you ever wondered how a curious and dedicated parasitologist visiting Finland might bring home a specimen of an eight-meterlong intestinal broadfish tapeworm that can't survive outside its host? Think about it. Or, ask Dr. Overstreet.
One consequence of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is the emerging recognition that the Gulf of Mexico has received far less research attention that the country's Atlantic and Pacific waters. Dr. Overstreet is frustrated by the lack of research and the lack of research funding for the Gulf of Mexico. "With its warm, nutrient rich water, the Gulf and its marine life are extremely interesting, but not yet well understood. And the opportunities and needs are even more significant with parasites than with fish, oysters, and mammals. I have a lot of ideas for student work if we can find funding." Dr. Richard Heard, a former student turned longtime friend and collaborator, said, “He and I both have already solved another lifetime of research problems we'd like to publish."
After 45 years of enthusiastically exploring the interconnected webs of parasites, hosts, and the environment, Dr. Robin Overstreet has a rare and wonderful understanding of the living world. As Jean Jovonovitch-Alvillar reflected, "He's a natural resource of scientific knowledge." Other than shedding a few administrative duties upon his retirement, Dr. Overstreet shows no sign of slowing down. He's still exploring, learning, and asking questions.
GCRL was the starting point for the recent One Coast Olympic Distance Triathlon. Some 500 athletes converged on the campus for this USA Triathlon sanctioned event on Sunday, August 31st. The event was hosted by Run-N-Tri and sponsored by the cities of Ocean Springs, Biloxi, Pass Christian, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis. The day started with a 1.4k swim in the waters of the Gulf right in front of the laboratory and was followed by the bike portion which was a 40k ride from GCRL to the Belle Fontaine Beach and back. The final leg of the event was a 10k run through town ending at Fort Maurepas.
Dr. Eric Powell, GCRL Director, spoke at a recent meeting of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. The meeting was held at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino on August 27 -28. Dr. Powell made a presentation introducing the National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) – SCeMFiS (Science Center for Marine Fisheries). The University partners for the center are University of Southern Mississippi and Virginia Institute of Marine Science with Dr. Powell as the Center/USM site director and Roger Mann as the VIMS site director.
SCeMFiS utilizes academic, commercial, and recreational fisheries resources to address urgent scientific problems limiting sustainable fisheries. In addition, the center seeks to simultaneously achieve sustainability in both fish and shellfish stocks and fish and shellfish fisheries.
The next meeting of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will be October 20 – 24 at the Renaissance Battle House in Mobile, Alabama.
Dr. Robert Griffitt, Assistant Professor of Toxicology at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) has received the inaugural Don Drapeau Mentorship Award, given by the Center for Undergraduate Research. Dr. Griffitt is being recognized for his mentorship efforts with Lyndsay Carrigee and her research project, which was conducted last spring.
Carrigee was among four students from Southern Miss Gulf Coast who were chosen for the Eagle Scholars Program for Undergraduate Research (Eagle SPUR). These students, in collaboration with their faculty sponsors, received funding for independent research, as well as scholarly and creative activity. Students were expected to devote at least 150 hours of work to their projects.
Under the advisement of Dr. Griffitt, Carrigee completed her project entitled, “Effects of Metal Nanoparticulates on the Micrbiome of Zebrafish.” Her research focused on the microflora in the gut of zebrafish and the direct effects that nanometals have on the delicate balance of the environment. Carrigee commented, “Hopefully this preliminary research will prompt further investigation into the usage and effects of nanometals in our environment.”
The Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) was well represented at last month’s American Fisheries Society Conference in Quebec City, Canada. This was the 144th Annual Meeting and was hosted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Northeastern Division, the Atlantic International Chapter and the Canadian Aquatic Resources Section of the American Fisheries Society (AFS). The following presentations were made by GCRL personnel: Jim Franks - Occurrence of Tarpon, Megalops atlanticus, leptocephali in Mississippi coastal waters, Patricia L. Luque -Genetic Variation and Stock Structure of Blackfin Tuna Inferred from Microsatellite Loci, Luca Antoni - Genetic Variation and Stock Structure of Yellowfin Tuna in the Atlantic Ocean, Adrienne Norrell - A Genomic Approach to the Conservation and Management of Red Snapper, a Non-Model Species Candidate for Stock Enhancement and Eric Saillant - An Integrated Multidisciplinary Program to Develop Aquaculture for Stock Enhancement of the Red Snapper.
The following presentations were made at the Larval Fish Conference which was held in conjunction with the AFS Conference: Jesse E. Filbrun – Investigating Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Impacts on Foraging and Growth of Larval Atlantic Bumper and John T. Ransom – Exploring the Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on Diet, Growth, and Condition of Larval Spanish Mackerel in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.
The theme for AFS 2014 was “From Fisheries Research to Management: Think and Act Locally and Globally”
Blue Crab Aquaculture Ready for Next Step to Commercial Production
Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture, joined state legislators and representatives from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR), USDA, and Alcorn State University on June 20 to discuss an exciting opportunity for commercial production of softshell blue crabs. With support from MDMR, USM and GCRL have invested in basic research that has yielded the knowledge and techniques to successfully produce blue crabs in the laboratory and ponds. Today, Mississippi hosts one of only two facilities in the U.S. with that capability. The June 20 gathering called together the people who can help initiate the next step toward commercial production – a pilot program on a Mississippi farm to provide softshell crabs for the seafood market.
Research Scientist Harriet Perry explained, “The ultimate goal is commercial production of softshell blue crabs on Mississippi aquaculture farms. Softshells are the money crab; they present the best economic opportunity. The demand for softshells far exceeds the supply and retail prices are now $25 to $60 per dozen, depending on size.” The state’s catfish industry has been severely hampered by competition from low-priced foreign imports and many farmers have idle production ponds. Blue crabs can be a means to put idle catfish production capacity back into operation with a readily marketable, sustainable, high-value product.
GCRL, MDMR, and Alcorn have applied jointly for a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support a pilot production program. Under the program, Alcorn State will work with a Mississippi farmer through its extension service and GCRL will provide technical support. Seed crabs will be raised from eggs to juveniles at the GCRL facilities on East Beach and Cedar Point and DMR’s Lyman Hatchery. The pilot project will provide opportunities to investigate commercial production methods and continue research into ways to reduce the cost of production.
State Senator Brice Wiggins summed up the meeting, “Scientists at GCRL, with support from MDMR, have determined how to raise blue crabs in a sustainable way that produces delicious and healthy high-value seafood. The next step is putting the science to work in the real world. It’s a great economic development opportunity for Mississippi farmers and seafood dealers and a great home-grown source of healthy food for America.”
- Dr. Eric Powell, GCRL Director
- Dr. Jeff Lotz, Chair of the Department of Coastal Sciences and Director of the Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center
- Harriet Perry, Research Scientist
- Pam Moeller
- Julia Weaver
- Mississippi Senators Brice Wiggins, Willie Simmons, and Tommy Gollott
- Mississippi Representatives Manly Barton and John Read
- Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture Cindy Hyde-Smith
- Mississippi Department of Agriculture official Stephen Prosse
- Jamie Miller, Director, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources
- Dr. Kelly Lucas, Chief Scientific Officer, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources
- Dr. Dalton McAfee, Alcorn State University
- Wesley Kerr, U.S. Department of Agriculture
- Senator Thad Cochran visited briefly.
Dr. Jay Grimes, Professor of Marine Microbiology, recently moderated The Oceans and Human Health (OHH) session June 10-12 at the Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW) annual event in Washington, D.C. CHOW is sponsored by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and provides marine professionals, government officials, and ocean enthusiasts a venue for networking and advancing policy goals.
The OHH session included panelists from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Marine Mammal Commission, and the pharmaceutical industry. The group explored the linkages between human health and the health of marine environments, in particular the threats posed by pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, marine mammal strandings, harmful algae blooms and pathogenic marine microbes, as well as the means for addressing those threats. The marine mammal discussion focused on mercury in seals, sea lion strandings caused by domoic acid being produced by diatoms growing on urea from agricultural runoff, and antibiotic resistant bacteria, including MRSA, found in many marine mammals.
The panel also discussed recent research programs by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NSF, and the pharmaceutical industry. NSF and NIH's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have created four centers of excellence on OHH. Pharmaceutical companies have begun isolating bioactive compounds from ocean organisms, including Halichondrin B, found in sea sponges, and used as an anti-cancer agent which is especially active against metastatic breast cancer.
Long-term shark research work by GCRL Research Scientist Jill Hendon was featured in the June 22 issue of the Sun Herald: Coastal Waters Have a Variety of Sharks. The article describes traditional tagging with hand-line, gillnet, and long-line techniques as well as acoustic and satellite tracking, and includes a photo gallery.
View or download the GCRL Shark Identification Guide.