A Glimpse into a Day at Sea Center Texas

Kenneth Wethington | Summer Intern | Lake Jackson
A Glimpse into a Day at Sea Center Texas
It's early in the morning, the dew is falling off the grass and the sun has begun its slow ascent across the summer sky. As we are driving away from the hatchery building to sample a pond of fish we hear a squawking sound. We turn and to see the black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) attempt to lead us away from her nest.

This description illustrates the beginning of a typical day at Sea Center Texas (SCT) in Lake Jackson, Texas.
SCT is one of three Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) coastal fish hatcheries whose mission is to stock hatchery-reared red drum, spotted seatrout, southern flounder fingerlings to supplement wild populations along the Texas Gulf coast.

Each day on the job holds different challenges and adventures at SCT. Every morning at 7:00 a.m. hatchery staff meet to discuss operations and assignments.
A few of the routine tasks that are first on the agenda include counting zooplankton, pulling ichthyoplankton tows, and caring for captive broodfish and aquarium displays.

Feeding the aquarium fishes and hatchery broodfish (adult fishes captured in the wild used at the hatchery to produce fertilized eggs) are part of the work assignments on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings.
The broodfish are fed three percent of their body weight. The fish are served chopped mackerel, shrimp, and squid. Additionally, they are fed beef liver to provide them with essential nutrients they would typically acquire from eating crabs or other prey in the wild.

Some of the weekly highlights at SCT occur on Wednesdays and Fridays about 10:30 a.m. when the public is invited to gather around the visitor center's aquariums to view the feeding ritual. This was one of my favorite activities I did this summer.
Other assignments I performed included: monitoring water quality parameters in outdoor culture ponds and aquariums, harvesting fish rearing ponds, stocking hatchery-reared fish into bays, conducting routine equipment maintenance, and cleaning culture ponds. I also did some outdoor facility maintenance and landscaping.

The majority of work conducted at SCT is based on out-of-doors activities, mostly taking place in the ponds. The primary challenges dealing with the practice of pond culture involve seawater quality, algae blooms, zooplankton abundances, and fish survival/growth.
Zooplankton are microscopic organisms that occur in seawater and live their entire life cycles drifting in water currents. These organisms are a primary source of food for developing fish larvae and are important prey items even in an aquaculture pond setting such as SCT. Along with hatchery staff, I closely monitored zooplankton abundances in the ponds. Another important task I performed was to sample survival of larvae released into culture ponds. A few days after fish larvae are released into a culture pond for a 30-day grow-out period, it is customary to estimate the survival rate of that stocking effort. A plankton net designed to capture larval fish is pulled across the surface of the ponds. Usually a significant number of larval fish are collected indicating that the stocking was successful. If low numbers are obtained, the pond is quickly reworked to be restocked as soon as possible.

As the fish larvae develop in the ponds during the grow-out period, their diet is supplemented with pelleted dry-feed.
Specific amounts of fish feed are weighed and placed into plastic buckets. It is distributed by hand to the ponds. I had the opportunity to sling many pounds of feed to the fish and I think that I will probably remember the smell of that fish meal for many years to come. It has a good distinct aroma that reminds me of the hot Texas sun, coastal waters, and the hard work required to rear fishes.

After about a month, the fish reach a size of approximately 1.5 inches (35 millimeters) in length which is considered the proper size for their release into bays.
I feel fortunate to have participated in the rearing of thousands of fish that were released into coastal waters. I can take pride in knowing that I had a hand in contributing to Texas' saltwater fishing.

The non-profit Coastal Conservation Association is the largest marine conservation group in North America established to conserve, promote, and enhance the present and future availability of coastal resources for the benefit and enjoyment of the general public.
As a Coastal Conservation Association (CCA Texas) intern assigned to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's coastal hatcheries at Sea Center Texas, I spent ninety days of my summer internship working alongside staff. I had great opportunities to learn about procedures that are required to raise red drum and spotted seatrout fingerlings on a large-scale basis. The CCA's internship program provides tomorrow's biologists and scientists with unique hands on experiences in coastal fishery management and related programs. I am grateful for the wealth of knowledge that I gained during my internship which would have been impossible to achieve without the cooperation of TPWD and the funding support of CCA Texas.