Sheepshead Shuffle 2020

Hello Fellow AFS Members,

The FL AFS Student Subunit invites you to join us for the annual Sheepshead Shuffle Virtual 5k to celebrate World Oceans Day and give back to your community of fisheries scientists!

The Sheepshead Shuffle is a fun, virtual event where you participate by walking, running, or shuffling (whatever mode of exercise you want!) 5k at the location of your choosing. Participants are encouraged to track their times to compete with other shufflers. Prizes for the fastest shuffler, slowest shuffler, and most interesting location (within limits since we’re all supposed to be staying close to home) will be awarded.

Participating in the Sheepshead Shuffle is not only the perfect opportunity to get outside, exercise, and de-stress during these uncertain times but it also allows you to donate to one of the AFS Student Subunits whose chapter meeting got cancelled this spring. All proceeds from registration will fund student travel grants to AFS meetings for members of those Student Subunits.

How to participate? Register at and be sure to indicate which Chapter you are representing!

You can complete your 5k in as many legs as you want between April 6th and June 14th. Post your best #SheepsheadSelfie to the FL AFS Student Subunit Facebook or Instagram with your time (or just email them) and you’ll be eligible to win prizes.

Make sure to check out our Facebook and Instagram for other’s #Sheepshead Selfies (we promise there will be pets and kids in selfies)!

Any questions? Please contact the FL AFS Student Subunit at

Happy Shuffling!

FL AFS Student Subunit 

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Seeing Red: Can hurricanes tell us how to bring back Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) to Florida Bay?

By: Jonathan Rodemann, FIU PhD candidate

I was a bass fisherman as a kid. Fishing the lakes up in New Jersey was all I knew. Then I moved to Florida to attend University of Miami as an undergraduate student and was introduced to the wonders of coastal saltwater fishing. I heard stories about snook, tarpon, jacks, snapper, and other incredible sport species. However, one species caught my attention and has been an obsession ever since. Red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus), also known as redfish or just reds, is a coastal fish species ranging from the Gulf of Mexico all the way up to New Jersey (who knew I had them in my neck of the woods?!), but are most common in the southern portion of their range. In Florida, they are one of the most sought after sportfish, known for their “bullish” fights and delicious taste.

These traits ramped up interest in red drum fishing in Florida Bay through the mid-20th century. Fishing was good back then, with healthy populations and no regulations. By the early 1980’s, 40% of the recreational fishermen in Florida Bay were targeting red drum and there was a strong commercial harvest as well. It felt like the unlimited supply of reds would never end.

Then catches began to drop off. In a fashion that is too common nowadays, overfishing led to a large decline of red drum in Florida Bay. It got so bad that emergency seasonal closures of the fishery, as well as size and bag limits, were enacted in the late 1980’s. Redfish populations started to recover due to these regulations all around Florida, except for Florida Bay. The altered freshwater flow input into Florida Bay from the canalization of the Everglades has changed the salinity regime, reducing habitat quality throughout Florida Bay and causing widespread seagrass die-offs. With all these detrimental alterations to the habitat, the already low populations of red drum could not recover.

Coming to FIU, I knew I wanted to study the ecology of recreationally important fish species. So I jumped at the opportunity when a project opened up in the coastal fisheries lab run by Dr. Jennifer Rehage looking at how the 2015 seagrass die-off in Florida Bay has affected the movement and trophic ecology of grey snapper (Lutjanus griseus), spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus), and red drum. However, when describing my project to people who have fished Florida Bay, all I heard was “Good luck! You won’t find any redfish there!”. Worried about the project, I started to look at other species as options. But then I started to hear whisperings. Trickling down through the grapevine was information on an abundance of “puppy drum,” red drums under the size limit, in Florida Bay. Excitement built and then curiosity set in. What caused this huge recruitment pulse? I came to the only logical conclusion: Hurricane Irma.

Hurricane Irma passed directly over Florida Bay in early September of 2017, the first hurricane to do so since the mid 1900’s. While devastating for human populations in South Florida, Irma was a godsend for many fish species, including red drum. The category 4 hurricane dumped a tremendous amount of freshwater into the entire Everglades system, drastically reducing the normally high salinities in Florida Bay. This input of freshwater along with the timing (breeding season for redfish is August to December) created a perfect storm (pun intended!) for red drum recruitment.

Now in early 2019, we are seeing tons of 12-15 inch redfish, whose size is indicative of hatching right after Hurricane Irma. So what does this teach us about the red drum population of Florida Bay? It seems that high freshwater input will increase the number of spawning events and the survival rates of the offspring. Therefore, restoring freshwater flow into Florida Bay through programs such as CERP (Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan) has the potential to bring back red drum populations! I am very excited to start tracking these “Irma reds” to learn more about what makes them tick, hopefully leading to information that will help redfish thrive once again in Florida Bay.

MS Graduate Research Assistantship Position at University of Florida

Applications for a Master’s position at the University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Lab are now open. The successful candidate will be conducting larval fish research for the advancement of marine ornamental aquaculture. Please see the attached document for details about the position and application process. Applications are due by May 21, 2021.

Early Larviculture Research for Two Marine Ornamental Fish Species

By Grace Sowaske, University of Florida, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences

Throughout the world, ornamental fish breeding facilities are increasing their aquaculture production. The values of the marine ornamental aquarium consumer are shifting to include more aquacultured fish due to the knowledge of declining ecosystems, the need for sustainable products and deleterious capture methods. Pelagic spawning species produce underdeveloped larvae that rely on a diet of copepod nauplii and other small, easily digestible zooplankton or phytoplankton and may require decreased light intensity for prey capture. Challenges associated with these characteristics need to be addressed for production of pelagic spawning species to become commercially viable. The melanurus wrasse (Halichoeres melanurus) and the Pacific blue tang (Paracanthurus hepatus) are of great interest to aquaculture due to their popularity in the marine aquarium trade and lack of established rearing methods. Research investigating early larviculture protocols will help to elucidate ideal methods for culturing these species. 

To investigate the environmental parameters that result in the highest survival and feeding incidence, we conducted a variety of experiments. These experiments focused on 0-3 days post hatch (DPH) which encompasses the transition from endogenous nutrition to exogenous feeding, representing a critical bottleneck for survival. Embryos were sourced from populations of broodstock maintained in a greenhouse at the UF Tropical Aquaculture Lab. The groups spawned at dusk, and the eggs were skimmed off the surface into an overflow collector (Fig. 1). The following day, the eggs were enumerated with 150 wrasse or 300 pacific blue tang embryos stocked into each replicate. Temporal replicates were used due to limited number of embryos per spawn. Replicates were stocked into static 15L fiberglass tanks that were set up a day prior to embryo addition and followed the same timeline (Fig. 2). All experiments utilized Parvocalanus crassirostris (parvo) nauplii, sieved below 80um to accommodate for the small mouth gape of the larvae. At the end of the feeding period on 3DPH, the larvae were counted for survival and a subset of 10 randomly chosen individuals were visually inspected for ingestion of parvo nauplii (Fig. 3) to determine feeding incidence.  

Figure 1. Broodstock tanks with a surface overflow egg collector.
Figure 2. Timeline of 3DPH experiments.

Figure 3. The top photo shows a larva that has ingested nauplii versus the bottom photo without any prey in its gut.

To begin, we investigated which microalgae species to include as greenwater to decrease light intensity and increase visual contrast. We used three commonly utilized microalgae species in the trade: Tisochrysis lutea (tiso), Tetraselmis chuii, and Chaetoceros muelleri at a previously successful cell density (300,000 cells mL-1). We learned from this experiment that tiso was the best species to use due to an increased survival and feeding result, so for all subsequent experiments we utilized this species. We then investigated what density of tiso would result in increased survival and feeding. We tested treatments of 0, 100,000, 300,000 and 500,000 cells mL-1 and exposed the larvae to parvo nauplii for 3 hours at a density of 5 nauplii mL-1. The highest survival and feeding results showed a survival percentage of ~65% for the melanurus wrasse and ~70% eating within the 300,000 cells mL-1 treatment. For Pacific blue tang the highest survival was ~20% (Fig. 4, 5) within the same treatment with no sign of prey ingestion, so subsequent experiments utilized a 5-hour prey exposure period. We then wanted to know if prey density had an affect on feeding with treatments of 2.5, 5 and 10 parvo nauplii mL-1. For both fish species, we did not see any significant differences in prey ingestion between the treatments (Fig. 6). This tells us that we can use the lower density and still achieve identical feeding incidence. This is most likely due to the search time, capture success, and other factors affecting optimal foraging.

Figure 4. Survival and feeding incidence for melanurus wrasse as a result of tiso density.

More investigations are underway. Effects of prey type, feed stimulants, photoperiod, and light intensity are parameters that we are investigating to further increase survival and feeding incidence for these two fish species. These experiments are critical in order to determine ideal environmental conditions while still conserving costly live algae and prey resources. My research elucidates some culture methods with green water and copepod feeding that resulted in greater survival at 3DPH. If we can overcome this bottleneck and come out with more larvae after this stage, the chances of larvae reaching a marketable size increase. Ultimately, we want these methods to be utilized in the commercialization of these species and by conducting this research we can arm the producers with the knowledge of methods to increase survival and feeding. 

Figure 5. Survival results for pacific blue tang tiso density experiment.

Figure 6. Results of prey density experiments.

How to raise Lysmata shrimp

By Sarah Hutchins, University of Florida, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences

Marine ornamental shrimp of the genus Lysmata are vital to the aquarium industry due to the ecosystem services they provide, as well as their bright, flashy coloration. Members of the Lysmata genus are divided into what are commonly referred to as peppermint shrimp and cleaner shrimp. Cleaner shrimp are known for cleaning fish by setting up cleaning stations to pick parasites and dead skin off of fish. Peppermint shrimp are highly sought-after in the marine aquarium trade, primarily due to their ability to eat the glass anemone Aiptasia, a common aquarium pest that can be difficult to eliminate (Rhyne et al., 2004). 

Blood Red Fire Shrimp
Peppermint Shrimp, Captive-Bred ORA®
Scarlet Skunk Cleaner Shrimp
Top to Bottom: Fire shrimp, ORA Captive-Bred Peppermint Shrimp, Skunk Cleaner Shrimp. Photo credit:  


Lysmata shrimp should be cultured with optimal environmental conditions that match their natural habitat as closely as possible to reduce stress and mortality and increase the likelihood of successful spawning. Lysmata broodstock require a mixed diet of fresh, frozen, and dry foods, which can consist of live Artemia, frozen mixes, pellets, and dry prawn diets (Calado et al., 2017). Lysmata shrimp are relatively easy to pair off for breeding since they are protandric simultaneous hermaphrodites, which means they start off as males and turn into simultaneous hermaphrodites (Bauer, 2000). A pair can produce up to 3,500 eggs every 10 days and the pair can switch who is the male and female for optimal efficiency (Palmtag & Holt, 2001). The female’s fertilized egg clutch will hatch into larvae and the female will molt and be able to spawn again, making these shrimp continuous breeders (Calado et al., 2017).

Lysmata larval morphology is quite intricate as these shrimp have many larval stages called “zoeae” and they use “mark-time molting” to keep molting with very little changes in morphology and prolong their development (Calado et al., 2017). Larval feeding may need customization to each species, and larval duration can vary from as short as 25 days in L. rathbunae and up to 110 days in L. wurdemanni (Lin, 2005). Culture protocols developed for the peppermint shrimp L. wurdemanni (Riley, 1994) were applied to raising the fire shrimp L. debelius by Texas A&M University and Texas Sea Grant (Palmtag & Holt, 2001), who the following culturing techniques are from. Larval tanks are nested with a rigid netted hatching chamber inside a mesh rearing chamber. The rearing chamber keeps the larvae and food in close proximity to one another to promote efficient use of food and rate of food consumption. The hatching chamber allows for easy addition and removal of the brooding adult, and a standpipe directing oxygenated water at the brooding adult assists in the release of hatching larvae. Once the larvae are released, the brooding shrimp should be removed and returned to the broodstock tank simply by lifting the hatching chamber out of the larval tank. 

Left to right: hatching chamber inside a rearing chamber, which is all inside a larval tank with a recirculating system. Photo credit: Palmtag & Holt, 2001

For the initial 12 days of culture, fire shrimp larvae eat a combination of Nannochloris oculata algae enriched rotifers of the species Brachionus plicatilis and N. oculata enriched Artemia sp. brine shrimp nauplii. From 12 DPH, L. debelius are fed blended frozen shrimp and squid in addition to the enriched artemia nauplii. Larvae are kept in rearing chambers and the tanks are gently circulated so the larvae are able to sit on the sides of the tanks. Detritus, waste, and dead larvae are siphoned every other day and larvae are moved to clean rearing chambers every 10 days. Fire shrimp are considered market size at roughly six months old when they are about 30 to 40mm long (Palmtag & Holt, 2001). PCV pipes spread throughout the growout tank will decrease cannibalism by larger individuals on smaller individuals (Calado et al., 2017). 

Left to right: Post-larvae fire shrimp (68 DPH) and recently transitioned juvenile fire shrimp (83 DPH). Photo credit: Palmtag & Holt, 2001

Since there are still very few culture protocols currently published, culture techniques have room for further development and improvement. With better diets and tank parameters come quicker larval growth and higher survival rates. If larval bottlenecks can be overcome and stable conditions can be kept over their currently long larval and juvenile stages, high juvenile success rates and easy adult care make Lysmata shrimp worthwhile to culture.


Bauer, R.T. (2000). Simultaneous hermaphroditism in caridean shrimps: a unique and puzzling sexual system in the Decapoda. Journal of Crustacean Biology, 2, 116–128.

Calado, R., Olivotto, I., Oliver, M.P. & Holt, G.J. (2017). Marine Ornamental Species Aquaculture. Wiley Blackwell, Oxford, UK.

Lin, J. (2005). Marine Ornamental Shrimp: Aquaculture, Biology and Conservation (ABC). Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, 56, 649-656.

Rhyne, A.L., Lin, J.D., & Deal, K.J. (2004). Biological control of aquarium pest anemone Aiptasia pallida Verrill by peppermint shrimp Lysmata risso. Journal of Shellfish Research, 23, 227–229.

Riley, C.M. (1994). Captive spawning and rearing of the peppermint shrimp (Lysmata Wurdemanni). Sea Scope, 11

Palmtag, M. R. & Holt, G.J. (2001). Captive Rearing of Fire Shrimp (Lysmata debelius). Texas Sea Grant College Program Research Report. 

Managing Pictures for Science

By Brent McKenna, Florida Atlantic University, Marine Science and Oceanography

Since beginning my master’s thesis, I’ve quickly learned that large numbers of photographs can be unwieldy on slow computers and remarkably frustrating to maintain.  Both mis-clicks and accidental drag and drops abound on laptops putting collections at jeopardy; a terrifying prospect when your research relies on those photographs.  Although I do not have the largest collection of photographs (only 350) nor am I by any means an expert, I’d like to share a few tips for managing photograph collections.  

  • Use no-loss formats

When taking the photograph itself, save the photograph in a no-loss format.  Depending on the camera, this may mean using a format like .tiff or .png instead of .jpg.  This will ensure, however, that your work going into photography will be usable by others and in the future.  Each time a photograph is compressed, unexpected changes like loss of quality (leading to image blurring) or artifacts (color changes) may occur.  When the clarity of a photograph is important (e.g. when measuring features visible in a photograph), maintaining the quality of the photograph is critical.  

  • Simple codenames are best

When naming a photograph, use a code that is easy to understand but descriptive.  Avoid describing what is in the photograph being named and having spaces in the name.  Eventually, descriptive names lead to more than one photograph with the same name while spaces can be problematic for cataloging photographs.  

  • Back-up every photo

Make multiple copies of every photograph.  Use online and offline repositories.  Online backups like Google Drive limit the physical space needed to carry photographs but cannot always be accessed.  Simultaneously, external hard drives are much easier to lose.  Together, however, recovering photographs will almost always be possible.  Moreover, accidental alteration of photographs happens frequently and may be permanent depending on the program in use.  Laptop trackpads can be notorious for random clicks.  Even with a regular computer mouse, lack of attention or exhaustion may lead to accidental clicks that could cause permanent changes to the photograph.  With multiple forms of backup, alterations lead to loss of time only if you need to access a new copy of the altered photograph.  The option to undo mistakes by copying the original photograph accentuates the importance of saving in a lossless format.  

  • Record photograph characteristics in a single document

Keep a record of your photographs in a central location but make copies of your record too.  I’m partial to using a spreadsheet because photograph names can be easily associated with the location the photograph was taken, a description of the photograph, the photographs location on your computer or preferred device, a link to the photograph, and any other useful information such as magnification, ISO, or conditions in which the photograph was taken.  

 I am by no means an expert at managing and utilizing photographs.  Hopefully, however, these four tips that I have shared can help streamline projects and management of ever growing collections.    

Marine Ornamental Fisheries of Southeast Asia: An Analysis and Recommendations

By Casey Murray, University of Florida, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences

The marine aquarium trade is a growing global industry that is responsible for providing ornamental marine fishes and invertebrates to home and public aquaria. The main consumers of marine ornamentals are hobbyist aquarists that own coral reef tanks, which resemble a living coral reef ecosystem (Calado et al., 2017). In 2003, the value of the marine aquarium trade was estimated at $200-330 million (USD) annually (Wabnitz et al., 2003). Most of the exported marine ornamentals originate from Southeast Asian coral reefs where Indonesia and the Philippines are the main exporters in the industry (Figure 1; Wabnitz, 2003; Bruckner, 2005). The major importers of marine ornamental commodities include wealthy countries such as the United States, Japan, and countries within the European Union (Rhyne et al., 2012a). From 2008-2011, approximately 22.5 million marine ornamental fish comprised of more than 2,000 species were exported to the US, with 56% of exports originating from the Philippines and 26% originating from Indonesia (Rhyne et al., 2017).

With increasing popularity of marine aquarium keeping, the ecological sustainability of the marine aquarium trade has been questioned due to instances of loss of fish and invertebrate abundance (Tissot and Hallacher, 2003; Rhyne et al., 2009), habitat degradation due to destructive collection practices (Rubec, 1986; Rubec et al., 2001; Wood, 2001), and non-native species introduction (Holmberg et al., 2015; Semmens et al., 2004). Some collectors in the marine aquarium trade have been known to utilize illegal sodium cyanide to stun reef fish for collection, however the use of this poison has been shown to be destructive to coral reef structures and can cause delayed mortality of captured ornamentals (Shuman et al. 2004). Also, the trade has been responsible for the introduction of the invasive lionfish in Caribbean reef ecosystems (Whitfield et al., 2002). Despite these issues, some coastal communities in Southeast Asian countries, such as Indonesia, rely on the income generated from collecting and selling marine ornamentals from local reefs (Reksodihardjo-Lilley and Lilley, 2007). 

A close up of a map

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Figure 1. The “coral triangle” in Southeast Asia (Cros et al., 2014).

Unlike food fish fisheries, the marine aquarium fishery encompasses thousands of species of ornamental fish and invertebrates. Since the start of the industry, it has been flawed by the lack of monitoring and reporting and the only data available to track imports and exports from Southeast Asia are invoices (Murray et al. 2012). The first attempt to track the marine aquarium trade was with the creation of the Global Marine Aquarium Database in 2000, which utilized invoices from wholesale exporters and importers from 1988-2003 (Murray et al. 2012). However, this database was limited because only 20% of the wholesalers submitted invoices and most of the invoices failed to specify scientific names of most species (Murray et al. 2012). In 2015, the Marine Aquarium Biodiversity and Trade Flow database was created to better understand the marine ornamental imports into the United States (Rhyne et al. 2015; This database was created using US Fish and Wildlife declarations and their respective commercial invoices and imported species were identified to the lowest taxonomic level (Rhyne et al. 2015). This database helped determine that the volume and number of species traded is much greater than originally thought (Rhyne et al. 2012). However, with the available data, this database covers only select years between 2000-2011 (

There is currently no official system for monitoring marine ornamental exports/imports in the marine aquarium trade (Rhyne et al. 2017). The lack of data within the industry makes it difficult to estimate the sustainability of marine ornamental harvests and virtually impossible to construct successful management regimes (Rhyne et al. 2012b; Rhyne et al. 2017). The only species that are regularly monitored in the marine aquarium trade are those listed by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Compared to the vast number of marine ornamental species traded, only a handful of them are CITES-listed and include stony corals, seahorses, and giant clams (Rhyne et al. 2017). Therefore, the only management regimes in effect in the marine aquarium trade are for CITES-listed species. 

Presently, no marine ornamental fish, other than seahorses, are protected under CITES. There are some species, such as the Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni), that have been known to suffer major population declines due to collection by the marine aquarium trade (Figure 2). This fish was ranked as the 8th most imported fish into the US in 2011 with approximately 127,000 P. kauderni individuals exported annually from Indonesia from 2000-2011 (Rhyne et al., 2015; Rhyne et al., 2017). In addition to fishing pressures, populations of Banggai cardinalfish are suffering from habitat destruction through coastal development, dynamite fishing, and harvesting of essential habitat, such as sea urchins, for human consumption (Yahya et al., 2012). The exploitation of P. kauderni has led to its classification as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and as threatened by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under the Endangered Species Act (Allen and Donaldson, 2007; NOAA, 2016). 

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Figure 2. Banggai cardinalfish, Pterapogon kauderni. Source: New England Aquarium


To address these issues, the supply chain first needs to be simplified. To improve upon record keeping and decrease wasted harvests, unnecessary middlemen patrons should be phased out and exporting companies should directly hire collectors for targeted harvests. This way, collectors would have a more dependable income, but it would also eliminate the ability of middlemen to pick and choose specimens to buy, which results in the waste and mortality of unwanted specimens. This supply chain simplification has already been in place for some CITES-protected marine ornamentals, however, to maximize success it should be expanded to include the whole of the marine aquarium trade (Bruckner, 2001). 

Trade-wide monitoring programs should in the form of co-management and incorporate inputs from several different groups of people including scientists, various stakeholders, and local citizens including collectors (Tissot, 2005). Utilizing co-management in the marine aquarium trade is most beneficial because it helps empower the communities that utilize the natural resource and will be most affected by management decisions (Tissot, 2005).  Initial monitoring efforts should be undertaken by the collectors themselves because they are most familiar with local ecosystems, data collection is inexpensive and long-term, and large sample sizes can be achieved (Moller et al., 2004). This would allow collectors in the marine aquarium trade to understand the importance of sustainable wild harvest and become more involved in the management of the fishery. Although data collected in this manner may be imprecise, it provides a decent overview of the status of coral reef fish and invertebrate populations (Moller et al., 2004). Science-based population assessments should also be performed to complement the monitoring efforts of collectors to better understand coral reef fish and invertebrate populations (Moller et al., 2004). Because science-based data collection is often expensive and requires specialized equipment it is more economically feasible to utilize this type of data collection as short-term ecosystem assessments (Moller et al., 2004).

Sustainable wild harvest includes respecting species-specific collection quotas, establishment of no-take protected areas, and enforcement of safe harvesting practices. After regulated monitoring efforts are in place, management plans can begin to develop. Management of collection should be species-specific and take into account the life history strategy, longevity, endemic range, fecundity, and recruitment rate in order to be successful because each of these traits varies widely between reef fish and invertebrate species. For example, a reef fish that has high fecundity, a wide endemic range, and high recruitment will have a harvest quota higher than that of a reef fish with low fecundity, a limited endemic range, and low recruitment potential. Because of the vast number of marine ornamental species traded, developing species-specific quotas would be difficult. In this case, it would be most valuable to first develop species-specific quotas for the top 10 species traded including the fire goby (Nemateleotris magnifica), blue chromis (Chromis viridis), and blue damselfish (Chrysiptera cynea) (  

Once species-specific quotas are established, they should be divided among collectors within a region, similar to the individual fishing quota (IFQ) and individual transferrable quota (ITQ) systems. IFQs give collectors an allotted number of marine ornamentals they can harvest over a set amount of time while ITQs can be sold to other collectors within the region (Stage et al., 2016). To prevent overcrowding of collection grounds, boundaries should be set for specific collection regions and IFQs/ITQs should be assigned to these regions proportionally. This quota management system would allow for sustainable removal of marine ornamentals and would also be socially and economically beneficial to Southeast Asian coastal communities. 

Although some practices within the marine aquarium trade are unsustainable, it is possible to work toward a more sustainable industry without jeopardizing the livelihoods of the coastal communities in Southeast Asia (Teitelbaum et al., 2010). Community-based aquaculture is a promising initiative that provides the opportunity for coastal fishing communities to produce valuable marine ornamental species while simultaneously reducing the collection pressures on wild populations (Job, 2005). Therefore, it is important to focus research efforts on improving aquaculture techniques of high-demand marine ornamentals that can be practiced in the country of collection.

Community-based aquaculture should be undertaken in such a manner that involves a diverse group of people including marine ornamental collectors, stakeholders, government agencies, and community representatives, which can also be considered a form of co-management (Figure 3; d’Armengol et al., 2018). Involving a diverse group of people in community-based aquaculture could help ensure that social balance is maintained and that the local workers, not big companies, benefit economically from aquaculture efforts (Monticini, 2019). Successful community-based aquaculture would allow for ornamental collectors from coastal Southeast Asian communities to have a more constant, reliable income compared to relying on wild collection, which can be affected by weather and can be unpredictable in harvest success. Community-based aquaculture would also allow for the supply chain of the marine aquarium trade to become more controlled, which would ultimately increase the sustainability of the trade because records of fish origins and export volumes would be more easily kept (Monticini, 2019). 

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Figure 3. Banggai cardinalfish community-based aquaculture facility in Bone Baru Village, Indonesia. Source: CITES.


The marine aquarium trade supplies important income to fishers in coastal Southeast Asian communities. However, the deficiency in monitoring and the lack of comprehensive management are widespread issues within the industry. Improving upon the economic, social, ecological sustainability of the trade requires the use of co-management regimes to empower coastal communities, spread awareness of the status of coral reef fish and invertebrate populations, and maximize profits from collected specimens. Co-management regimes should include monitoring efforts, supply chain simplification, training for collectors, and community-based aquaculture with the goals of establishing species-specific management, decreasing destructive collection methods, and improving the overall health of coral reef ecosystems. Ultimately, the improvements that can be made within the marine aquarium trade will not only improve upon environmental sustainability, but also increase economic and social sustainability within the coastal communities of Southeast Asia.

Literature Cited

Allen, G. R., and T. J. Donaldson. 2007. “Pterapogon kauderni.” Website [accessed 13 Nov 2019].

Bruckner, A. 2005. “The Importance of the Marine Ornamental Reef Fish Trade in the Wider Caribbean.” Revista de biología tropical 53:127-137.

Bruckner, A. 2001. “Tracking the Trade in Ornamental Coral Reef Organisms: The Importance of CITES and its Limitations.” Aquarium Science and Conservation 3: 79-94.

Calado, R., Olivotto, I., Planas, O. M., and Holt, G. J. (Eds.). 2017. Marine ornamental species aquaculture. Retrieved from

Cros, A., Fatan, N.A., White, A., Teoh, S.J., Tan, S., Handayani, C., Huang, C., Peterson, N., Li, R.V., Siry, H.Y. and Fitriana, R.. 2014. “The Coral Triangle Atlas: an integrated online spatial database system for improving coral reef management.” PloS one9(6).

D’Armengol, L., M. P. Castillo, I. Ruiz-Mallen, and Esteve Corbera. 2018. “A Systematic Review of Co-managed Small-scale Fisheries: Social Diversity and Adaptive Management Improve Outcomes.” Global Environmental Change 52: 212-225.

Ferse, S. C. A., L. Knittweis, G. Krause, A. Maddusila and M. Glaser. 2012. “Livelihoods of Ornamental Coral Fishermen in South Sulawesi/Indonesia: Implications for Management.” Coastal Management 40:525-555. DOI: 10.1080/08920753.2012.694801.

Holmberg, R. J., M. F. Tlusty, E. Futoma, L. Kaufman, J. A. Morris and A. L. Rhyne. 2015. “The 800-pound Grouper in the Room: Asymptotic Body Size and Invasiveness of Marine Aquarium Fshes.” Marine Policy 53: 7-12.

Job, S. 2005. “Integrating marine conservation and sustainable development: Community-based aquaculture of marine aquarium fish.” Live reef fish information bulletin 13:24-29.

Jonklaas, R. 1985. “Population fluctuations in some ornamental fishes and invertebrates off Sri Lanka.” Symposium on Endangered Marine Animals and Marine Parks.

Monticini, P. 2019. “Breeding Marine Aquarium Fishes: Opportunity or Threat for the Local Fishing Community?” Infofish International 5.

Murray, J. M., Watson, G. J., Giangrande, A., Licciano, M., and Bentley, M. G. 2012. “Managing the Marine Aquarium Trade: Revealing the Data Gaps Using Ornamental Polychaetes.” PloS one 7(1): e29543.

Moller, H., F. Berkes, P. O. Lyver, and M. Kislalioglu. 2004. “Combining Science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Monitoring Populations for Co-management.” Ecology and Society 9: 2.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 2016. “Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants; final listing determinations on proposal to list the Banggai cardinalfish and Harrisson’s dogfish under the Endangered Species Act.” In NOAA and NMFS [eds.], 3023-3031. Federal Register.

Reksodihardjo-Lilley, G. and R. Lilley. 2007. “Towards a Sustainable Marine Aquarium Trade: An Indonesian Perspective.” SPC Live Reef Fish Information Bulletin 17:11-19.

Rhyne, A., Rotjan, R., Bruckner, A., and Tlusty, M. 2009. “Crawling to Collapse: Ecologically Unsound Ornamental Invertebrate Fisheries.” PLoS One 4(12): e8413.

Rhyne A. L. and M. F. Tlusty. 2012. “Trends in the Marine Aquarium Trade: The Influence of Global Economics and Technology.” Aquaculture, Aquariums, Conservation & Legislation 5:99-102.

Rhyne, A. L., Tlusty, M. F., Schofield, P. J., Kaufman, L. E. S., Morris Jr, J. A., & Bruckner, A. W. 2012a. “Revealing the appetite of the marine aquarium fish trade: the volume and biodiversity of fish imported into the United States.” PLoS One 7:e35808.

Rhyne, A. L., M. F. Tlusty, and L. Kaufman. 2012b. “Long-term Trends of Coral Imports into the United States Indicate Future Opportunities for Ecosystem and Societal Benefits.” Conservation Letters 5: 478-485. 

Rhyne, A. L., M. F. Tlusty, and L. Kaufman. 2014. “Is Sustainable Exploitation of Coral Reefs Possible? A View from the Standpoint of the Marine Aquarium Trade.” Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability: 7:101-107.

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Rhyne, A. L., M. F. Tlusty, J. T. Szczebak and R. J. Holmberg. 2017. “Expanding our understanding of the trade in marine aquarium animals.” PeerJ 5:e2949.

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Semmens, B. X., E. R. Buhle, A. K. Salomon and C. V. Pattengill-Semmens. 2004. “A Hotspot of Non-native Marine Fishes: Evidence for the Aquarium Trade as an Invasion Pathway.” Marine Ecology Progress Series 266: 239-244.

Shuman, C. S., Hodgson, G., & Ambrose, R. F. 2004. “Managing the marine aquarium trade: is eco-certification the answer?” Environmental Conservation 31(4): 339-348.

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Smart Seafood Shopping with Science

by Gabrielle Love, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, University of Florida

Seafood is an important dietary component for much of the world’s population. Countries all over the world have published dietary guidelines that include seafood as part of a healthy diet, recommending seafood typically at least 1-2 times per week or more based on local availability. In the US, the USDA has published sustainable food recommendations that incorporate sustainably-sourced seafood as part of a healthy, produce-focused diet (Fischer & Garnett, 2016).

In the face of climate change and other environmental concerns, it’s important to make sustainable food choices. Ditching environmentally-detrimental seafoods in favor of sustainable options can help protect natural ecosystems while providing for the dietary needs of a lot of people. There’s always the option to skip eating seafood altogether, but for those of us who do eat it, how can we know which seafood choices are actually sustainable? How can we support fishing practices that do less environmental harm than what is often the standard?

Sustainable fisheries are harvested at rates that allow the fish population to maintain healthy numbers using methods that conserve the surrounding ecosystem (NOAA Fisheries, 2020b). Organizations that promote sustainability in fisheries use the latest scientific research and information on harvest practices to determine which fish populations are in danger and those that can be fished safely. To be classified as sustainable, these organizations analyze criteria like fish abundance, volume of bycatch, biodiversity, habitat impacts, and more (Monterey Bay Aquarium [MBA], 2020a). 

International, national, and local organizations use these scientific metrics to encourage making sustainable seafood choices. Consumers can find publicly-available resources published by these organizations that list which seafood products are and are not sustainably sourced. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program publishes state-specific consumer guides (Figure 1) that list which seafood products are the most sustainable options available in that area in addition to lists of moderate alternatives and products to avoid (MBA, 2020a). 

Figure 1: Seafood Watch guide to sustainable seafood choices for Florida. Adapted from Monterey Bay Aquarium (2020b).

NOAA Fish Watch offers similar profiles of the best seafood options by region (Figure 2). They include information on the fish population status and challenges, plus health and culinary information for consumers. More importantly, they describe why that fish is listed as a sustainable choice. 

Figure 2: Sample of sustainable seafood profiles listed for the Southeast US. Adapted from NOAA FishWatch (2020a).

Researchers use the latest scientific information on fish population health to determine how to preserve natural ecosystems. It is crucial to communicate this information to the public so everyone can make more environmentally-friendly food choices. These and similar guides are useful tools that help everyday people reduce their own environmental impact to maintain healthy fish populations for years to come. 

About the author: I am pursuing my Master of Science in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at the University of Florida. I study the influences on predator-prey interactions on oyster reefs under the supervision of Dr. Ed Camp and Dr. Shirley Baker.


Fischer, C.G., & Garnett, T. (2016). Plates, pyramids, and planets. Developments in national healthy and sustainable dietary guidelines: a state of play assessment. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Monterey Bay Aquariuma. (2020). Seafood Watch Standards Review. Seafood Watch.

Monterey Bay Aquariumb. (2020). Southeast Consumer Guide [Infographic]. Seafood Watch. guide.pdf?la=en

NOAA Fisheriesa. (2020). Fish Finder Southeast Profiles. FishWatch.

NOAA Fisheriesb. (2020). Wild-Caught FAQs. FishWatch.

What I wish I knew before going to grad school

Lauren Kircher, Florida Atlantic University, Integrative Biology PhD program

In writing this blog, I thought about all of the things that I have learned since joining a graduate program. There are a lot of things that have to be experienced for yourself that will only sink in when you go through it. I thought that I was fully prepared for graduate school, but I didn’t really know what I was getting into. 

 Over the course of my undergraduate schooling, I got a chance to experience real research through some courses, two summer fellowships, and a senior honors thesis. After all of that, I was convinced that I wanted to continue research in graduate school and into my career in the future. I had long discussions with my advisors about how to get into graduate school and what I should be doing. I have made a lot of mistakes along the way and I am still learning a lot, but I want to share some of my experiences.

  • Apply to a range of programs.

I applied mostly to doctoral programs. I knew I wanted to get my doctorate eventually so I figured that it would be most efficient if I skipped my Master’s or earned it while  earning my doctorate. That may be true some of the time, but without all of the lessons, knowledge, and skills that you gain in a Master’s, there will probably be a steep learning curve in a doctoral program, especially if you haven’t had work experience in the field. Even without the learning curve, a lot of doctoral programs that don’t have a Master’s degree as a prerequisite will still preferentially accept students who already have a Master’s since they have built up skills in writing, fieldwork, etc. I was accepted into a doctoral program that allows a Master’s en passant (Along the Way) and while it ultimately worked out for me, it wasn’t without its challenges.

  • Reach out to more prospective advisors.

A lot of graduate programs require you to have an advisor before being accepted, but mine did not. I had talked to a few professors at FAU, but none of them were sure that they would have the space or funding. FAU allows their students in doctoral programs to rotate between laboratories to try to find the right fit of advisor and lab; some programs even have this rotation built into their structure. Even though this might be an option, it can be challenging. In ecological fields, lab rotations are difficult to accomplish because the conditions are less controlled than lab rotations in more bench-focused fields, e.g. molecular biology, although by using previously collected data, I was fortunate enough  to perform a small experiment and get a publication from one of my rotations. In both finding a graduate school and going through lab rotations, I should have reached out more to prospective advisors. I tried to contact a lot of advisors when finding a graduate school, but I should have talked more to my undergraduate professors about people they knew might be accepting students at other institutions. You have to contact a large amount of people because probably seventy percent of those professors will never respond, and of the ones that do respond, some will be on sabbatical, some will have full labs, some will not have funding for new students, and some will not even have any students anymore. Very few will make it through all of those filters, and those are the prospective advisors you can pick from. From there, you can finally take into account advising style, location, and the program itself.

  • Be more assertive.

I was coming into graduate school straight from undergraduate school and I am a shy person by nature. I felt nervous about contacting these potential advisors who I didn’t know at all. I have learned a lot since joining a lab, becoming friendly with my advisor and other professors, and teaching undergraduates as a TA. It is hard to be assertive, but it is necessary in order to get things accomplished. I always felt like I was being too pushy or annoying by following up, sending reminders, or sending multiple emails. Now I’ve been able to realize that scientists are busy and they can get a massive amount of emails in a day. Things get buried in inboxes. Most people I have worked with so far appreciate the reminders and follow-ups more than resent them. You can learn and gain opportunities  by approaching experts and scientists you don’t know, you just have to get past any awkwardness or anxiety.

  • Pursue more funding.

If you can bring funding to a graduate program, you are much more likely to get into a program or a lab because there is already money available for the research. Apply for as many scholarships and fellowships as you can. Graduate school costs a lot of money. Even with a stipend, graduate students are often still paying for university fees, textbooks, and travel and registration for scientific conferences among personal expenses. I apply for travel funds and volunteer to mitigate some of these costs, but they can still add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars in a semester.

  • Think things through.

When you are approaching potential advisors or even later on when meeting with your advisor or other scientists, think through your thoughts thoroughly. Read the background literature. Write down questions and ideas. Be able to put your thoughts into words. Make conceptual maps to picture how your variables affect each other. Map out your experiments. Outline your talk or publication so you know what analyses need to be run to tell the story. And above all else, know your audience: sometimes you need to forego detail for clarity, and other times the opposite is true.

I am definitely not saying that I know how to get into graduate school (even though I did) or what to do afterwards. These are just some bits of wisdom that I wish someone had told me when I was coming into graduate school. Coming to graduate school in Florida, I found an amazing advisor, joined a great program and lab, met my fiancée, and started collaborating with some other great scientists. I have worked really hard and I have so much more to do. I don’t know that I would have made different decisions, but it always helps to be more informed when making those decisions.

Collaboration: The key to enhanced research

By: Joshua Linenfelser, Florida Atlantic University

In the words of John Bardeen, science is a collaborative effort. The combined results of several people working together is often much more effective than could be that of an individual scientist working alone. Unfortunately, some people in the field of research do not share the same ideology about collaboration in the workplace. There are those who believe that through their independent research, great findings can be made. Although, this can be true, what they may fail to realize are the bountiful opportunities that could arise through the perspective and aid from fellow scientists in the same pursuit of knowledge. The problem may emerge due to the possibility of wrongdoing by the other party using the collaborative research for their own gain with disregard for the other party. As you may notice, there is risk to this process, however the rewards brought to each scientist working in collaboration could be much greater than any one of them working alone. This act of mutualism through forming alliances that can bring benefits to both parties can act as an assurance that each party will work in each other’s best interest. Throughout my experience working in a fisheries ecology research lab, there have been numerous occasions where working hand in hand on various projects with other scientists ranging from those in the government sector to those in academia and even citizen scientists has led to great findings otherwise impossible to come by.  

FWC researchers collaborate with FIU researchers on the Common Snook

Working in various projects within the Fisheries ecology lab has opened my eyes to the different ways collaboration can help make such a big difference in the way an individual’s research is done. Collaboration has led to advantages such as gaining help with field work, branching out from your research niche, discovering new research ideas, and expanding the scope of your research. Looking back, I immediately think of two graduate researchers from separate labs who have worked together on two seemingly similar yet entirely separate projects which they now collaborate on whenever writing research papers and conducting field work. This collaboration has helped the both of them enhance their status and knowledge in the field of marine research.  Another creative and useful collaboration is through the help of citizen science. There are many ways in which engaged citizens could really help with your research while providing citizens with enjoyment and a sense of contribution. . In my case, I have seen citizens help in the process of taking samples such as fin clips for stable isotope analysis or scanning for pit tags when out fishing like they would normally do. Many times the citizens will enjoy what they’re doing and it can make for a great help with your research. Furthermore, working with colleagues in areas where you are not familiar can be a great way in receiving different perspectives on your research. One big example is a collaboration between all scientists who work with snook within the state of Florida coming together to discuss their research and findings  to get feedback and to compare research with the same species in different areas within the state. These various ways of collaboration can bring great insight to your research topic. 

FIU graduate student collaborating with citizen scientists helping to determine fish movement and growth patterns

Overall, the idea of scientists working as a cohesive unit may seem readily apparent and obvious because of the advantages which come along with it. However, from my experience it is scarcely used in many scenarios. Increasing collaboration and trust between scientists  will lead to better and more informed research and can have overarching  benefits for the science community as well as more integrated science to the community.

Policy Commentary: Federal Changes to the Waters of the United States Rule put Aquatic Ecosystems at Risk Nation-Wide

By: Jordan Massie, Florida International University

The connectivity of aquatic habitats is key to the health and resilience of our waters, and to the fish and wildlife they support. This is particularly true in freshwater ecosystems, and spatiotemporal variations in water flow and inundation result in a shifting mosaic of complex habitats which have shaped the life-histories of aquatic biota. The fundamental dynamics of stream flow are simple and intuitive, water flows downstream. However, what is not always given full consideration in the realm of policy and water management is that discrete impacts affecting water quality upstream may have widespread impacts on system-wide processes. Recent changes to Waters of the United States rule illustrate this oversight, threatening not only the ecological integrity of wetlands, headwater streams, and tributaries, but to our vital water resources as a whole.

The Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS) was an extension of the much earlier Clean Water Act, which set in place requirements mandating that industries and land-users obtain permits in order to discharge pollution into waterways, or fill in wetlands, along with creating fines for environmental accidents like oil spills. The adoption of the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972 made unpermitted pollution of what was called “navigable waters” illegal, although the terminology/definition of what these waters entailed was slightly vague and contested in courts for decades (and still is). In 1985, a Supreme Court case addressed the scope of CWA protection, and ruled that waters like wetlands that are immediately adjacent to navigable waterways were also covered. It did not, however, address those areas spatially discrete from larger water bodies, but in 1986 the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) clarified that any waters that affected economic interests of the United States were included in the CWA (including wetlands, sloughs, and intermittent streams). Further Supreme Court rulings expanded protections in 2006, when Justice Kennedy presented the inclusion of water bodies that met a “significant nexus” test. Under this definition, if a smaller water body had some sort of ecological connection, regardless of whether it was “navigable” surface water, it was also subject to permitting and must meet specific water-quality requirements. Even after these revisions, the CWA was still onerous to interpret in many cases, with some landowners unclear as to whether they were in violation. In 2015, President Obama sought to further define protected waters, along with expanding the scope of protection to areas not previously considered. Under the WOTUS rule, a broader interpretation of the “significant nexus” was adopted. Ponds, streams, and wetlands that feed into larger water bodies were specifically included to protect ecosystems and habitat for fish and wildlife, as well as potable water resources. Further, water bodies that only contained water for part of the year, or only flowed when it rained, were included (ephemeral/intermittent). This rule was science-based and aimed at protecting the environment and human health, but still sparked widespread criticism. There appeared to be a political consensus on protecting the large, permanent, or continuously flowing waters deemed clearly “navigable”, but disagreement on whether wetlands or intermittent/ephemeral waters should be included. Many touted these regulations as federal overreach, but the intent was to curtail pollution and ensure clean water, healthy ecosystems, and recreational/economic opportunities for future generations.

In 2019 President Trump sought to fulfill a campaign promise made to industrial and agricultural interests by repealing protections put in place by WOTUS. This was accomplished on January 23, 2020 with the issuing of the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) by the EPA and USACE. The new rule once again re-wrote the definition of “navigable waters” with a shorter list of specific water bodies. These include “territorial seas” used in foreign/interstate commerce (past, present, and future use), perennial tributaries to large water bodies, lakes and ponds, and wetlands immediately adjacent to these waters. Most prominently, the NWPR removed regulations from intermittent and ephemeral streams only flowing as a result of rainfall/snowmelt, as well as most wetlands spatially separated from “navigable waters” (they need to be adjacent). Areas that do not receive protection also include groundwater, sheet flow, non-natural waters, or waste treatment systems. NWPR also went beyond repealing the Obama-era safeguards, by eliminating the “significant nexus” test from the 2006 supreme court ruling and expanding exemptions to include lands that had been actively farmed since 1985 or earlier. The result of these changes is that approximately 20% of all streams in the United States and half of all wetlands would no longer be subject to water quality standards or require permitting to introduce chemicals or pollutants.

Much of the criticism of WOTUS and calls for its repeal have centered on an undue hardship brought to landowners and businesses, in what many consider Federal overreach into decisions that should be reserved for state governments and landowners themselves. As such, parties who were either encumbered (though permitting, legal consulting) or prevented from partaking in economic activities near protected waters have been most in favor of changes to WOTUS. This includes not only farmers who would need to regulate runoff from fertilizers and pesticides, like cattle farmers and fruit/vegetable growers who may require more monitoring and, in some cases, new infrastructure to manage water, but also larger private companies. Other advocates of the rule change are oil/gas companies which may be prohibited from exploration/extraction near protected waters, and land developers who seek to dredge and fill wetlands for new construction. Those most opposed to the recent changes to WOTUS fall into two main categories; environmental groups/advocates and scientists. Not only do these changes threaten environmental health, but they also put freshwater resources that benefit all citizens of the United States at risk. Not only can introduced pollutants directly impact water quality in surface streams, but loss of wetlands can also reduce valuable water purification services. Furthermore, the highly dynamic and mobile nature of water can result in contaminants introduced into unprotected areas impacting water quality in the larger “navigable waters”. Scientific advisory boards, including those within the Trump administration, have pointed out that these rule changes go against established science that show the value of protecting a broader range of U.S. waters.

Personally, and as a developing ecologist, I am against and troubled by the recent changes to WOTUS.  Much of the opposition focuses on the “poor farmers” and landowners already acting as stewards of their land that were saddled with permitting and financial burdens by the 2015 WOTUS rule, and that such regulations violate our rights as Americans to make decisions about what to do on our own land. This is something that I can in some way sympathize with, but I feel that this argument is a red herring that diverts attention away from the real concern. I have no doubt that many farmers care about their land and want to preserve  it for future generations, but the bigger threat is that the new rule opens the door for large fossil fuel extraction companies, mining firms, mega-agricultural companies, and developers seeking to capitalize on public resources and “reclaim” land in order to expand profits. These allowances present a much bigger environmental threat than the farmers who are being portrayed as the victims of WOTUS. Polluted water, even in temporary water bodies, can degrade habitat, and negatively impact the health, growth, development, and reproduction of fish and wildlife. Furthermore, connectivity is central to stream ecosystems. Patterns and processes occurring in wetlands, headwaters, and tributaries are linked to water quality, biodiversity, and ecosystem integrity downstream. I think that dismissing science-based regulation in favor of industry/development/economic gain is a mistake, and may lead to the burden of polluted waters being shared by all Americans.