A Day in the Life of Mike Robertson

Mike Robertson | Fish and Wildlife Technician | CCA/AEP Marine Development Center | Corpus Christi
A Day in the Life of Mike Robertson
Meet Mike Robertson:

"Howdy, my name is Mike Robertson. I started with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) in October 1983 working as a Fish and Wildlife Technician with the Game Wardens in the Law Enforcement Division in Corpus Christi. In June 1987, I transferred as a Fish and Wildlife Technician to the CCA/AEP Marine Development Center (MDC) Fish Hatchery in Corpus Christi. Here we raise red drum (redfish) and spotted seatrout to be stocked into the Texas coastal bays."

What do you do? "I do everything at the hatchery. I monitor the brood stock that produce the eggs that grow to fingerling fish in the ponds that we delivery by trailer to the bays. Monitoring fish at a hatchery is a 24 hours a day, 365 days a year job. They are livestock. We depend on them and they depend on us. Someone must always be available in the event of a power outage to keep life support going. As for other jobs, some days I may be a plumber, electrician, mechanic or who knows what. I guess you could say I'm just a "jack-of-all-trades."

What are brood stock and exactly what do you do with them? "Brood stock are adult sexually mature redfish that we have in tanks and stimulate them to mate and lay eggs. It takes lots of commitment to create in doors what occurs naturally in the wild. By controlling light and water temperature we can make the fish think they have gone through the seasons of winter, spring, summer and the fall spawning time. For example we can produce winter like conditions with 9 hours of light and 60 degree water temperature and summer with 15 hours light and 86 degrees. We can take a year long seasonal cycle and compress it into around 5 months. We normally place 3 females and 2 males in each 3200 gallon circular tank. All of these fish are over 30 inches long."

What do you feed the fish? "We feed the fish three times a weeks about 3% their body weight. We feed shrimp, squid, beef liver and mackerel."

What next? "When the fish spawn, the eggs float. We collect them, incubate them indoors for around 3 days until the yolk sac is gone, and then they are transferred to grow out ponds. The ponds have been fertilized in advance to grow phytoplankton and zooplankton that the fingerling fish need to eat."

How long do you keep the fingerlings before they are stocked? "We try to stock fish when they are about 1.5 inches total length. This takes about 35-40 days in the ponds. It takes about 48 hours to drain a one-acre pond. We like to harvest after midnight when it is cooler on the workers and the fish. Trailers can get to their stocking sites when it's still cool in the morning. When I get back to the hatchery I clean my equipment, prepare for tomorrow. I'll go home eat dinner, in bed by 8 p.m., and back at midnight for harvesting or in at 5 a.m. for another delivery."

How long do you keep the brood stock? "About 25% of the brood stock are rotated out each year. This is healthier for the fish and insures that we maintain genetic variability in the fish that we raise and stock."

Is stocking successful? "Stocking is one of many management tools we use in fisheries to help maintain stocks. There are studies that show survival of the stocked fish. Coastal Fisheries has crews that routinely monitor fish populations for relative abundance. And they count and measure how many fish are being caught by sport and commercial fishermen. With regulations like size and bag limits and techniques like stocking, we can continue to maintain fishing opportunities for many generations."

How do you tell people about the hatchery? "Here at MDC we do a lot of education and outreach. We have school groups that have been coming here for many years in a row. We have a fishing pond where we teach kids how to fish, some for the first time. I always get a kick out of the smile on a kid's face with their first fish."

What else do you do on a typical day? "When we are not in production mode, there is always something that needs to be done and we have to prepare for the next season as well. There is never a typical day. Since I've been at this hatchery for the last 23years, I know the facility better than anyone else. There is always some electrical, plumbing or mechanical maintenance issue. I have been here long enough to know that a typical day is never knowing exactly what you're going to do from day to day. That is the challenge that keeps me going, never the same, that's what I like."