By studying the best habitats for the fish, scientists hope to encourage homeowners to make "fish-friendly" decisions.
Mote has been raising a lot of fish.
To be exact, the scientists have been raising snook by the hundreds to study ways to replenish the population and preserve optimal habitats for the species.
Scientists with Mote Marine Laboratory like postdoctoral scientist Dr. Ryan Schloesser have been studying the fish for more than a year, and they hope the results can encourage homeowners to foster environments to keep fish healthy.
“We were actually hoping to see that something as simple as including vegetation along your part of the shoreline can actually help the fish that use it,” Schloesser said. “We were very pleased to see in the fall that those results were consistent with that.”
More fish in denser habitats is good for a number of reasons, Schloesser said. First, it benefits the sport fishing industry in all of Florida, but Sarasota specifically.
“Recreational saltwater fishing in Florida is an $8 billion a year industry, so recreational fishing really drives the economy of much of Florida, including here in this area,” he said. “And one of the most popular recreational species is the snook.”
Schloesser went on the explain that snook are especially vulnerable to drops in population from factors like red tide and open fishing, and this research and the process of raising fish in Mote hatcheries will allow the center to replenish the population quickly.
Further, the research will help homeowners along shorelines to know what kinds of “fish-friendly” decisions they can make to help — primarily encouraging vegetation to grow in the area. This practice not only helps snook, according to Schloesser, but with the erosion that is such a problem on Sarasota County beaches.
“Erosion is a very very hot topic because it’s putting a lot of sediment in the creek, and that ends up in the bay,” he explained. “One of the things that helps reduce erosion is healthy shoreline vegetation.”
After releasing one batch of juvenile snook in Philippi Creek in the fall and releasing a second round June 13, the scientists have already begun to see results that point to more vegetation, whether in natural habitats or along sea walls, keeping the fish alive longer.
This research relies on the use of passive integrated transponders, or PIT tags, to relay messages about the fishes’ locations to sensors placed along the creek. Essentially, this is the same technology used by toll booths to know when to charge drivers’ credit cards.
Previously, to get the same information, scientists would have to release the fish and then spend weeks or months physically recapturing them. This is a less invasive and much quicker process, Schloesser said, giving the scientists information almost instantaneously.
On June 15 at Mote Aquaculture Research Park, a group of scientists, interns and volunteers spent the morning measuring the fish and scanning them to ensure the sensors were working. Then, groups of the 480 fish were released at eight different points along Phillippi Creek, the largest watershed in the region. At each release point are three sensors to track the fish, demonstrating different habitats they could live in.
As part of this research, Mote scientists are also testing with ways to reduce the stress put on the captive fish, to help them live longer and make smoother transitions between environments.
Residents in the areas around the Mote release points were curious about the project, and came out to watch. Scientists showed children what the snook looked like, and were quick to answer any questions residents had.
“We’re excited to be able to conduct research that could benefit the community we all live in,” Schloesser said.