Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in the News
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.
For the third consecutive year, a portion of the proceeds from the Spraberry-Schankin Memorial Trout Tournament has been donated to GCRL to support fisheries research. Tournament organizers John Rea and Andy Hermetz of Mississippi Gulf Coast Fishing Tournaments, Inc., recently presented a $2,000 check to Read Hendon. The donation will help fund research on spotted seatrout (a.k.a. “speckled trout”) and other important recreational fishery species in GCRL's Center for Fisheries Research and Development. USM media release
On April 22, Dr. William T. Hogarth, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography, delivered a free public lecture at The Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center of Arts and Education in Ocean Springs. The lecture, titled “U.S. Fisheries: Emphasis on the Gulf of Mexico,” was the fifth in the Grimes Distinguished Lecturer Series begun in 2007.
Dr. Hogarth discussed the status of the country’s fisheries industries and the challenges faced in meeting our growing demand for seafood in the face of intense foreign competition. Two million American jobs are fisheries dependent and annual U.S. fisheries sales amount to $185 billion. Yet the U.S. ranks fifth among nations in production, and we import far more seafood than we export. In fact, the negative U.S. balance of trade for fish and fishery products is larger than that for automobiles and petroleum. With shrimp, the single most popular seafood in America, we annually import seven to eight times as much shrimp as we produce. Dr. Hogarth suggested that with the global catch of wild seafood remaining nearly static, increased demand for seafood must be met by aquaculture. GCRL’s aquaculture programs and research are directed toward stock enhancement and also toward supporting a sustainable and sound aquaculture industry to provide healthy products to American consumers while boosting the U.S. economy.
Dr. Hogarth was previously the director of the National Marine Fisheries Service and also served as Commissioner and Chairman for both the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) and the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
The Jay and Bev Grimes Distinguished Lecturer Series is sponsored by GCRL professor Jay Grimes and his wife Bev. The series brings well-known marine scientists to address topics important to Southern Miss students and faculty and the Gulf Coast community.
The annual Mississippi Marine Fisheries Workshop brought local anglers to GCRL on April 23 for presentations by five GCRL scientists and the Finfish Bureau Director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.
- Mississippi Spotted Seatrout Fishery and Stock Assessment Panel Overview - Read Hendon, GCRL
- The Status and Future of the Commercial Gulf Menhaden Fishery in the Northern Gulf of Mexico - Dr. Robert Leaf, GCRL
- Improving Management of Red Snapper through a Voluntary Reporting Program - Matt Hill, MDMR Fisheries, Finfish Bureau Director
- Studies of Genetic Stock Structure of Gray Triggerfish in U.S. Waters - Dr. Eric Saillant, GCRL
- Acoustic Monitoring of Sharks and Juvenile Reef Fishes in the Mississippi Sound - Jill Hendon and Jim Franks, GCRL
Please contact Martha Brown if you would like to receive email notification of similar events at GCRL.
The Mississippi Marine Fisheries Workshop is an annual event. Workshops are coordinated with and funded by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources through the Sport Fish Restoration Program.
The popular Fishing With Science seminar series continues for one final session in June with the focus on tripletail (blackfish). The seminars pair GCRL scientists and local fishing guides to help anglers understand popular local sport fish and how to catch them. A casual discussion session follows the formal presentation with a local seafood sampling and displays of tackle and equipment. The March session provided a general overview of coastal fishing and in April the focus was on cobia. The May session was designed to provide fisherman with the information needed to make the most of spring and summer trout fishing. The last session will help anglers prepare anglers for the annual arrival of tripletail to Mississippi waters.
Proceeds from registration fees are applied to scholarships for summer programs and fisheries research. According to program host Sam Clardy, "A portion of the fees from our March and April sessions has already provided scholarships to Shark Fest and Angler Camp for seven local kids who would not have been able to attend otherwise."
June 19 - Add Tripletail to Your List of Targeted Species
Jim Franks, Senior Research Scientist, GCRL Center for Fisheries Research & Development
Captain Ronnie Daniels, Fishing Guide, Fisher-Man Guide Service
Tripletail, or blackfish, show up in our waters every year, usually in May, and remain until the early fall. They are unlike any other game fish. Jim Franks will share information on the biology and unusual behavior of this species. Captain Ronnie Daniels will provide tips for how to catch his favorite species, the tripletail.
More than 80 people gathered at GCRL on June 3 for a casual evening of stories about tarpon and tarpon fishing legends, science, and how-to advice. The event was a joint effort of GCRL, the Historic Ocean Springs Saltwater Flyfishing Club (HOSSFLY), and CCA Mississippi.
Three speakers were featured on the informal program: Krissy Wejebe, Brandon Shuler, and Jim Franks. Krissy described growing up and fishing with her father Jose Wejebe, legendary Keys fisherman and television host, and about the foundation she directs that continues his charitable activities. Captain Brandon Shuler, Ph.D. contributed information about tarpon fishing from his perspective as a fishing guide, writer, and editor of Glory of the Silver King: The Golden Age of Tarpon Fishing” which details the history of tarpon fishing in Texas and nearby Mexico. Jim Franks, Senior Fisheries Scientist at GCRL, concluded the formal program with a presentation on the life history of tarpon, ongoing tarpon research at GCRL, and the rich history of tarpon fishing in Mississippi. A lively discussion followed, with audience members relating their experiences with Mississippi tarpon and Jim encouraging local anglers to pass along their observations of tarpon in Mississippi waters.
CCA provided refreshments after the session and Brandon Shuler signed copies of his book, donating $5 from the sale of each copy to HOSSFLY. HOSSFLY, in turn, donated the funds to GCRL's Marine Education Center to help fund scholarships for local children to attend GCRL summer camps.
Is it possible that healthy elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and stingrays) can have a mutually beneficial relationship with bacteria residing within their tissues? Until now, the presence of bacteria in the tissues and organs of vertebrate animals has typically indicated a potentially harmful infection. However, previous bacterial culture work by Dr. Grimes indicates that elasmobranch fishes can remain perfectly healthy even though they harbor bacteria within tissues including muscle, liver and kidney. This exciting discovery may lead to a basic paradigm shift in our understanding of the relationships between bacteria and their hosts.
Dr. Andy Evans (Lead Principle Investigator) and Dr. Jay Grimes (Co-Principal Investigator) will explore the possibility of this previously unknown mutualistic relationship between the host fish and the bacteria with the support of an EAGER grant (Early-Concept Grants for Exploratory Research) from the National Science Foundation. The $289,885 grant includes a sub-award to the J. Craig Venter Institute. Work began in May and will continue for two years.
The research team will use cutting edge DNA sequencing technology to characterize the elasmobranch microbiome - the array of bacterial species present in tissues from two elasmobranchs common in Mississippi waters - the Atlantic sharpnose shark and the Atlantic stingray. They will also verify the presence and specific locations of bacteria within tissues using transmission electron microscopy and fluorescence in-situ hybridization (FISH) methods. Characterization of the elasmobranch microbiome will provide critical data for future proposals and studies examining the roles of resident bacteria in elasmobranch physiology. Understanding the nature of this novel relationship will provide valuable insight not only for elasmobranch research but also comparative physiology, immunology, and vertebrate health. Future work may examine the immune mechanisms that allow for bacterial residence in healthy individuals.
Graduate Students at GCRL Sweep Presentation Awards at AFS Meeting
Best student presentation awards were won by three Department of Coastal Sciences graduate students at the recent joint meeting of the Mississippi and Tennessee Chapters of the American Fisheries Society. Sixteen USM/GCRL employees and students participated in the March 18-20, 2014 meeting at Pickwick Landing State Park in Tennessee.
- 1st place: - Faith Lambert for “The Secondary Stress Response of the Atlantic Stingray to Prolonged Air Exposure,” coauthored with Andrew N. Evans;
- 2nd place - Jeremy Higgs for “Age and Growth of the Finetooth Shark, Carcharhinus isodon, in the Northern Gulf of Mexico,” coauthored with Jill Hendon, Dana Bethea, James Sulikowski, Eric Hoffmayer, and William Driggers;
- 3rd place- Jennifer Green for “Proceed with Caution When Implementing a Mixed Receiver Model Passive Acoustic Array Design,” coauthored with Mark Peterson, Paul Mickle, and Dwayne Fox.
Additional presentations at the meeting were given by other GCRL attendees.
- Gary Gray - "Otoliths of Rare or Uncommon Fishes in the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory Samples, coauthored with Jim Franks and Jill Hendon
- Robert Leaf - "Assessment of Mississippi’s Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) Fishery"
- Sarah Ashworth - "Abundance and Distribution of Sharks Within the Mississippi Sound: Summary of a Decade-Long Gillnet Resource Survey," 2004-2013, coauthored with Jill Hendon and Eric Hoffmayer
- Jim Franks - "Occurrence of Tarpon, Megalops Atlanticus, Leptocephali in Mississippi Coastal Waters," coauthored with Patrick Graham, John Anderson and Thomas Fayton
- Jill Hendon -"Reproduction of the Blacknose Shark, Carcharhinus Acronotus, in the Northern Gulf of Mexico," coauthored with Eric Hoffmayer, Jeremy Higgs, William Driggers and James Sulikowski
- Stephanie Taylor - "Examination at the Ichthyoplankton Community Assemblage of the Loop Current and Sargassum Habitats in the Gulf of Mexico," coauthored with Robert Leaf
Finishing their terms on the Executive Committee and attending the meeting were Nancy Brown-Peterson (Past President) and Darcie Graham (Secretary-Treasurer). Jennifer Green was elected as the new Secretary-Treasurer of the Mississippi Chapter. Also attending were Mark Peterson, Andy Evans, Greg Crochet, Danielle Bailey, and Ginger Fleer.
The Southern Association of Marine Educators (SAME) award for outstanding marine science educator has been awarded to only six educators since 2004. The seventh individual to earn this honor is Summer Rohe Dorcik, a marine education specialist at GCRL.
Summer holds a B.S. in Marine Biology with a minor in education from Central Methodist University in Fayette, Missouri. While an undergraduate, she took three classes in GCRL’s Summer Field Program that inspired her to return to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. From 2009 to 2011, she served as an instructor at Newfound Harbor Marine Institute and the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, before coming to work at GCRL in 2011. Summer is now director of the Sea Camp program which serves approximately 1000 students each summer. During the rest of the year, she introduces K-12 students to the coastal and marine environments in programs designed to get students out in the environment. Summer helps them gain a hands-on field learning experience through Coastal Science Camps and the Miss Peetsy B program. Summer has been a member of the National Marine Educators Association for more than three years and presented at the NMEA conference in Anchorage, Alaska in 2012.
Dr. Jessie Kastler and Aaron Lamey have recently conducted a Tidelands-funded service learning project in which students from four colleges and universities examined the results of restoration efforts on Deer Island. Service learning programs fulfill a community need while giving students a valuable field experience in which they both learn and serve.
Deer Island has lost 300 acres of its area to erosion since 1850 and The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been engaged in projects to restore and stabilize the island. The most recent effort included the beneficial use of dredged material to create new island and marsh. After the material is deposited, natural processes take over as vegetation and animal communities move into the new area.
Dr. Kastler and Lamey established monument markers to establish three study sites for the current work and future projects. Student groups came from the University of Southern Mississippi, the University of Central Florida, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, and Northwest Missouri State University. Each group spent four days at GCRL. At Deer Island, students monitored the development of landscapes. Students collected data on dissolved oxygen, temperature, salinity, and pH in the water and made seine/yabby pump collections in the waters around the island. On shore, they measured elevation profiles and made vegetation transects. The students' efforts provided valuable information on the ecosystem changes as the dredge material was incorporated into the island. In return, the students learned new scientific skills, experienced the process of science in the field, and received a preview of potential careers in science.
This initial effort established a baseline of data and methods that will be used annually to continue monitoring Deer Island restoration with the Oceanography class in GCRL's Summer Field Program
GCRL celebrated the 104th anniversary of the founding of the University of Southern Mississippi in a brief gathering in the dining hall on March 27, 2014. Verlee Breland and Ruby Drieling were honored on their completion of 20 years of service. 10 year service awards went to Binnaz Bailey, Devaney Cheramie, Sam Clardy, and Margaret Firth.