Hatchery Intern Experience

Jeff Long | Summer Intern (Technician) | Coastal Fisheries Division | Marine Development Center | Corpus Christi
Hatchery Intern Experience
Night harvest of red drum fingerlings from a hatchery pond.
I started my Texas adventure in the fall 2008 by enrolling in the mariculture graduate studies program at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC). I am nearing the end of my academic journey having completed most of my required 36 hours of coursework. Prior to attending graduate school, I was employed as a laboratory coordinator at Arizona State University, Civil Environmental Engineering Department. It was one of the best jobs I ever held, but I had a desire to live along the Texas coast and study marine fishes.

This summer I have been very fortunate to serve as one of six Coastal Conservation Association Texas (CCA) summer interns. Because of CCA's generous funding support, I have been able to complete the field portion of my research and I am currently analyzing data. My thesis research, entitled "Dynamics of Water Quality and Biotic Production in Plastic-Lined Mariculture Ponds," focuses on ways to improve fish production in saltwater hatchery outdoor rearing ponds. It focuses on trying to better understand the food web relationships between seawater, algae, zooplankton, and larval fish in rearing ponds.

To complement my graduate studies, I have worked at the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department's CCA/AEP Marine Development Center in Flour Bluff performing a wide range of fish hatchery duties. During my internship, I have received awesome support from hatchery staff. My duties have included feeding the hatchery's red drum and spotted seatrout broodfish. Hatchery staff maintains some really large fish in their spawning tanks. I would not be surprised if some of those fishes are of state record size.

Three times a week I helped prepare beef liver, shrimp, squid, and mackerel as food for broodfish. This seems to be a tasty and healthy food concoction and the fish really enjoyed it. Prior to this time, I had never seen a whole beef liver. I was really impressed with its full size. To my satisfaction I was able to recognize some of the vital parts of this important organ that I had learned in my biology classes. That hands on experience was great, and I can tell you that I will never look at a piece of liver in the same way. Then there was the shrimp - lots of it! I often felt like making a fresh salad for lunch. Squid was of particular interest to me because of their messy purple ink sac that stained my hands. I observed that their mouth was equipped with a sharp horny beak which is used to kill and tear prey into manageable pieces. Each squid has three hearts, two of which pump oxygenated blood to its gills, and the third heart pumps blood around the body. I gained a new appreciation for this amazing sea creature. While slicing up chucks of mackerel I learned why this family of fishes is prized for their meat but I also learned that they are very oily. The mackerel are very high in omega 3 fatty acids, containing nearly twice as much per unit weight as do salmon. Hatchery related research has shown that mackerel in the diet improves the quality of eggs produced by hatchery broodfish.

After weighing out the proper portions of feed for each brood tank, I went on my rounds feeding the hatchery red drum broodfish. I soon discovered that the fish were accustomed to feeding. Sometimes while tossing the feed into the tanks, I would receive in return a face full of saltwater from the fish splashing. They would really be excited about feeding time. The seatrout were more easily spooked and their feeding behavior was more reserved. I wonder if these behaviors translate back to catching these fishes in the bays with the seatrout requiring more patience and a quieter approach from anglers.

One thing about working in a fish hatchery is you never know what tasks you will be asked to perform when you arrive to work. Fixing and cleaning are main orders of the day at fish hatcheries. I worked closely with staff to get all duties done quickly.

The results from my research study were very encouraging despite the threat of Hurricane Alex. My study yielded almost 400,000 red drum fingerlings that were released into Corpus Christi Bay. This was quite an accomplishment considering the summer heat and high salinity conditions present at the hatchery. Hopefully, my research will have practical implications that will improve hatchery fish production for years to come.

I know my experience at the hatchery will be remembered for many years to come. Because of collaborative efforts of CCA Texas, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, and TAMU-CC, many students such as me have been able to pursue college degree programs that will prepare us for life-long careers in natural resources conservation. I am blessed to have been able to work with all these organizations and fine people.