Scientists Try New Tactics to Increase Fish Numbers

Is it possible to increase the populations of two of the Gulf of Mexico’s most popular sport and food fish by raising and releasing small fry? Marine biologists are trying to learn just that. In recent years hundreds of thousands of spotted seatrout, known as specks, and thousands of red snapper fingerlings have been released, all identifiable by tiny wire tags. The problem is finding them again.

Since 2006, almost 600,000 specks have been released and only 50 have been recovered. Recently scientists from the University of Southern Mississippi and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources released just fewer than 2,000 red snapper to an artificial reef south of Horn Island, Mississippi. Because of their size, electronic tags cannot be used on them so microwave tags are being employed to tell whether all those little fish are having any effect on overall species numbers.

Hatchery science started in 1989 and one of its goals was to help conserve naturally spawning populations and support sustainable fisheries. Ken Leber, associate vice president for fisheries and aquaculture research at Mote Marine Laboratory and head of the Science Consortium for Ocean Replenishment said “while there are precious few success stories, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. We need this technology in this century. We’re seeing more and more habitat degradation, such as damage to seagrass meadows from river borne sediment and damage from dredging and trawling. If the habitat disappears, it’s hard to have a sustainable fishery.”

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