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Released May 20, 2004


OCEAN SPRINGS -- The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and The University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory Thursday officially launched a new initiative to develop a spotted seatrout stocking program in Mississippi.

A workshop at Gulf Hills Conference Center laid the foundation for the Seatrout Population Enhancement Cooperative (SPEC), bringing together leading scientists involved in stock enhancement, managers of stocking programs in other states and more than 30 representatives of groups interested in the future of Mississippi's spotted seatrout, also known as speckled trout. The joint project will test the effectiveness of using hatchery-raised fish to enhance Mississippi's seatrout population.

Dr. William Walker, DMR executive director, said the support of the Mississippi Legislature and the Secretary of State's Office made the effort possible through Tidelands Trust Funds with $75,000 for the 2003-2004 fiscal year and $250,000 for the upcoming fiscal year. He also cited the Coast Conservation Association for supporting the concept of a speckled trout hatchery.

"This meeting convinced me that this is something we can do," Walker said in his closing remarks. "We have a good team put together."

The workshop featured principles of the relatively new scientific discipline of marine stock enhancement, how stocking programs in South Carolina, Florida and Texas work, and efforts underway at the GCRL. Panel discussions included questions, issues and concerns raised by participating anglers, representatives of conservation groups, agency marine resource managers and scientists.

Keynote speaker Dr. Ken Leber of Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., outlined the goals of stock enhancement research and its contribution to meeting the criteria for responsible stocking in marine and coastal environments.

David Abrego, facilities director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife effort, reported on his state's stocking program that stocks spotted seatrout and red drum in the millions per year. "In any particular bay on any given day, 20 percent of the fish -- caught by anglers or in our staff's bag seines -- are our hatchery-reared fish." Abrego said.

Wallace Jenkins of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said his program's experience was that releasing juveniles of one to two inches long at the right season contributed more to the fishery in their pilot release areas than the more expensive option of rearing fish to a larger size for release. "For five years, 40 percent of 'age one' fish -- fish about 14 inches -- that were recaptured in stocking areas by both anglers and by our agency were from our hatchery," Jenkins said.

Bill Halstead of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission noted that focusing resources and expertise cooperatively is crucial to a program's success.

"I don't think any one agency or group can do it alone," he said. "It takes the state agency, the university and stakeholders -- the anglers who expect to benefit from the effort."

Dr. William Hawkins, executive director of the GCRL, applauded DMR's vision in seeking a scientific basis for determining whether fish released into Mississippi waters will contribute to the fishery.

"We will be gathering scientific data for a specific purpose," Hawkins said. "The purpose of the SPEC project is to enhance the natural population where it needs enhancing. In addition to that, because this is new science and a new species for stock enhancement in Mississippi, there are beneficial spin-offs from this effort that we aren't even aware of yet."

Hawkins outlined plans now in the design stage for an 8,000-square-foot facility for holding brood stock for egg production, hatching and rearing spotted seatrout for release. He noted that the experiences of the GCRL team in the red snapper stock enhancement research and development project had demonstrated the importance of the tenets of responsible stock enhancement. GCRL and its partners in the red snapper research were the first to successfully answer questions about the effectiveness of releasing hatchery-raised red snapper in the marine environment.

"This is not an industrial process where you are going to stamp out a standard product," he said. "With each repetition of a sequence of procedures, we will develop and implement incremental changes that move us closer to the result we need. We could get brood stock from Texas right now, but we might be importing a genetically different fish, and we don't want to do that," Hawkins said. "This is a long-term commitment, not a one-year project."

He said in the first phase, the lab is capturing mature specks for brood stock from the area where their hatchery-reared offspring will be released.

DMR Deputy Director Dr. Fred Deegen is coordinating the joint research effort. Southern Miss researcher Dr. Reg Blaylock of the GCRL is principal investigator. Working with him are Dr. Jeff Lotz, professor of coastal sciences, and GCRL research staff John Ogle, Casey Nicholson, Sue Barnes, Angelos Apeitos and Don Barnes.

The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources is dedicated to enhancing, protecting and conserving marine interests of the state by managing all marine life, public trust wetlands, adjacent uplands and waterfront areas to provide for the optimal commercial, recreational, educational and economic uses of these resources consistent with environmental concerns and social changes. The GCRL and the Department of Coastal Sciences are part of the Southern Miss College of Science and Technology. Other Southern Miss units associated with GCRL are the Center for Fisheries Research and Development and the Gulf Coast Geospatial Center, both headquartered at the lab, and the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center and Aquarium in Biloxi. For more information about the SPEC partners, visit and


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May 21, 2004 5:22 PM