SPRINGS -- University
of Southern Mississippi graduate Jackie Zimmerman is helping tame
wild animals, but not of the circus variety.
She is in the
process of domesticating cobia, also known as lemonfish or ling.
Cobia is fast-growing, hardy and tasty. It is the hot new species
on the research and development scene for United States marine aquaculture,
and a handful of the nation's universities, agencies and entrepreneurs
are competing -- and collaborating -- in the race to develop methods
for using cobia as an aquacultural cash crop.
entered the race as a research scientist for a Houston start-up
company, American International Fisheries. She coordinated a trial
run on rearing cobia in indoor tanks at the university's Gulf Coast
Research Laboratory in a collaborative project between her company
and the laboratory. She delivered the last 900 of the successfully
reared fish to Virginia Friday for further experimentation.
The Ocean Springs
resident is no stranger to the GCRL. She earned her master's degree
in May 2003 through the Department of Coastal Sciences at the laboratory,
one of the leading centers for marine aquaculture research and development
in the nation.
She was back
at the GCRL by November for the AIF-GCRL collaboration. The laboratory
provided space, tanks and filtration systems, while AIF provided
Zimmerman as research staff, the fingerlings, feed and supplies.
The 2,000 two- to three-inch fish, offspring of parents caught in
the wild, were purchased from a Florida aquaculture center.
E. Hawkins, GCRL executive director, said the project is relevant
to the lab's research on the utility of indoor aquaculture systems.
The lab's systems filter and reuse water rather than discharging
the used water into the environment or treatment systems. "We
want growth and survival data on this species," he said.
the cobia grew so rapidly that she cut down on feed for the more
crowded tanks. "In a commercial setting, you grow them as big
and as fast as you can," she said.
the primary objective of the company that employs her is to grow
cobia in cages in the open ocean, a goal currently constrained by
(reared in cages), their growth is amazing," she said. "The
project we are doing never pushed the growth limits of the fish.
We were limited with the size of (the experimental) system that
for rapid growth is there, however. GCRL fisheries biologist Jim
Franks noted that, in the wild, cobia can grow to about 12 pounds
and 25 inches in a year. He said they may live 12 years and can
reach more than 100 pounds. Their natural habitat is over the continental
shelf and offshore reefs as well as bays and estuaries. They like
structures such as pilings, buoys or platforms in open water.
Blaylock, GCRL research scientist, helped Zimmerman monitor the
health and growth of the hatchery-reared cobia, and the researchers
sacrificed and examined several fish a month for disease and growth.
The remainder of the 2,000 cobia are now relocated at several new
homes of other marine aquaculture programs. AIF donated 700 to the
University of Texas at Port Aransas, 320 to Virginia Tech in Blackburg
and 50 to the University of Miami.
Friday the cobia looked good after their arrival at Virginia Tech-Hampton
Roads Center, a pit stop for the fish before they go to a private
fish farmer to grow to market size in a recirculating system. Zimmerman
said if that step is successful, they may be used in market studies
with the cobia winding up at restaurants and other markets among
the Virginia fish farmer's contacts.
The GCRL is
a unit of the Southern Miss College of Science and Technology.