November 21 is World Fisheries Day, a day that highlights the critical importance of healthy ocean, river and lake ecosystems and sustainable stocks of fisheries worldwide. With support from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the nation’s Land-grant Universities play a critical role in helping solve some of the most pressing challenges to keeping fisheries healthy and productive.
Healthy fisheries are fundamental to the cultural and economic well-being of northern Gulf of Mexico residents. Overfishing, habitat loss and changing environmental conditions threaten the sustainability of these resources. Although stakeholders are interested in learning more about these topics, locating trusted sources of information can prove difficult. Mississippi State University (MSU) Extension specialists filled that need by communicating accurate and up-to-date information about Gulf of Mexico fish and fisheries clearly and concisely.
MSU Extension's Marine Fisheries Ecology program engaged with recreational and commercial stakeholders through formal and informal events and digital platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and the Gulf Coast Fisherman newsletter. The Marine Fisheries Ecology program reached more than 1,000 people at events, published 89 social media posts with a reach exceeding 408,000, and distributed four issues of our Gulf Coast Fisherman Newsletter to an audience of more than 500 subscribers.
Based on evaluation cards from events, 100% of attendees reported an increase in fish or shark knowledge; 92% reported an increase in fisheries or fisheries science knowledge; and 71% of attendees identifying as fishermen reported that they would change their future fishing practices. Based on surveys of social media followers and newsletter subscribers, 100% of followers/subscribers reported an increase in fish or shark knowledge; 98% reported an increase in fisheries or fisheries science knowledge; and 65% of followers/subscribers identifying as fishermen reported that they would change their future fishing practices. These results indicate that the communication strategies are not only extensive but also effective and impactful.
Fish losses attributed to toxic algae episodes continues to be an important issue facing Arkansas aquaculture. During the late 1990s Arkansas catfish producers annually lost an estimated $900,000 worth of catfish attributed to this problem. Today, these losses would be equivalent to $1.68 million.
Taking a proactive approach, the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff’s aquaculture/fisheries program instituted an algal monitoring program. An Extension specialist visits farms on a weekly basis during the production season, a period of 40 or more weeks. Algal samples are collected weekly from approximately 166 ponds. The samples are examined microscopically with the presence and abundance of the algae Aphanocapsa noted. When the algae population exceeds an estimated 5 million cells per liter, treatment with an approved algicide is recommended. In some cases, flushing the affected ponds with massive quantities of water from adjacent ponds has also worked to reduce algae populations.
Over 2,800 algal samples were processed during the 2021 production season. Pond owners were advised to treat the algae on 10 occasions. Thanks to the program and its recommendations, there were no economic losses attributed to algal toxicosis. Treating the affected ponds saved an estimated $200,000 worth of catfish.
Top image: Left image of fresh caught halibut drop from the bottom of a transport basket. Right image of large school of fish. Courtesy of Adobe Stock.