Future for Fisheries

Nicole F. Poulson
Future for Fisheries
As a recent graduate from Texas A&M University Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC) I was fortunate to have been selected to intern with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department-Coastal Fisheries Division (TPWD-CF) this past summer. The internship program is designed to provide students or recent graduates with valuable skills and experiences that will further the education of the individual and prepare them for their future career path. I participated in the harvest monitoring program and the marine resource monitoring program with the upper Laguna Madre management workgroup. To collect the data for both programs, I was introduced to field sampling using equipment such as: bag seines, gill nets, bay trawls as well as assisting at harvest surveys. Although most of my time was spent in the field collecting data, I was also given the opportunity to participate in other related activities such as SEA camp.

SEA Camp is an educational program provided for students who have completed kindergarten through fifth grade and is sponsored by the Texas Maritime Museum in Rockport, Texas. TPWD-CF staff located in Rockport provide the campers with activities to increase awareness of the organisms, habitats and ecosystems that make South Texas so unique. The overview is presented by TPWD staff in a fun and interesting way so that the students are engaged and, in theory, take valuable information with them. The students eyes grew wide in their excitement as they learned sampling techniques, kayaking skills and fish and bird identification. I believe that TPWD's contribution to SEA Camp has a positive long term affect on the students as they become more knowledgeable of the coastal waters and the organisms that inhabit these ecosystems. Participating with SEA Camp made me aware of how many young minds are interested and fascinated in fish, birds and conservation efforts put forth by TPWD. As a young child I was inspired to study biology after attending a similar educational program in the United Kingdom where I lived for the majority of my childhood. I distinctly remember the engaging activities attracting me to learn more about wildlife and the importance of protecting the environment. I feel very strongly that some of the individuals that attended SEA Camp were impacted by the experience provided to them and one day those individuals could make a contribution themselves. SEA Camp is one example of outreach efforts provided by TPWD and an important method to educating future generations. Even as a young adult I was equally as energetic and excited to begin my internship as the students were to learn about fisheries and the ecosystem from us.

Over the past three months of the internship, the biology classes I had taken at TAMU-CC began to all come together and the connections were made. Specimens studied in ichthyology came to life and the scientific classifications were quickly recalled as I identified and measured organisms. I spent hours in the bay, learning how to use a GPS device, set and retrieve gill nets, pull bag seines and bay trawls. As an intern I was eager to absorb as much information as possible and learn from the resources provided. As the internship progressed and I continued assisting with field sampling, I realized how beneficial a botany class would have been for me to identify plants and seagrass. Along with the fish and birds, vegetation is a key element for a successful ecosystem in the Laguna Madre. I quickly learned the five species of seagrass found in Texas waters while sampling: turtle, shoal, widgeon, manatee and star grass. These species have distinctive characteristics to set them apart from one another and all provide significant benefits to the ecosystem. Todd Neahr, (TPWD- CF biologist) educated me on each species and how to accurately identify them. Seagrass beds support marine habitats for multiple purposes including a food source for numerous organisms and shelter for fish such as red drum. The roots and leaves facilitate to reduce erosion and turbidity in rough conditions and are a major contribution to the nutrient cycle as the leaves are decomposed. The unique ecosystem, characteristic of the Laguna Madre, is dependent on seagrass to provide stability and housing for finfish, birds and invertebrates that inhabit it (Green and Short 2003). Seagrass is part of the foundation for the Laguna Madre that continues to provide a healthy and successful environment. Knowledge is the key to a successful outcome and as the staff at TPWD taught me their knowledge we together reached out to the public and simultaneously taught students and younger individuals the value of our ecosystem.

After a slimy and sweaty summer and many gallons of water later, I would like to acknowledge those who made this experience possible. The Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) who sponsored me, Dr. David Mckee (TAMU-CC Professor of Biology) for his mentorship and recommendation along with the upper Laguna Madre ecosystem team for their time and many hours of patience. I now have a more clear understanding of fisheries management and how the data collected is utilized and interpreted in contribution to sustaining the fish populations.

As a final note, things truly are better outside and doing our part to protect our natural resources will provide for those generations still to come.