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 

Facebook page:



Amazon Smile:

Instagram: @flafsstudentAsk us to add you to our listserv!

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.

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.


Lauren Kircher


Lauren is from western New York and received her BS in Marine Biology from University of New Haven. Lauren participated in several fellowships at University of New Haven and University of Southern California, nurturing her love of research. Following her BS, Lauren started a Ph.D. in Integrative Biology at Florida Atlantic University. Her dissertation focuses on natural and anthropogenic environmental influences on the movement of a tropical sportfish (common snook) in St. Lucie estuary. Lauren’s research interests include fisheries, movement ecology, behavioral ecology, and physiology.

Vice President

Brent McKenna0818201228c_HDR

Brent is a Master’s of Science student at Florida Atlantic University.  His interests lie primarily with fishing and the best ways to ensure the survival and success of fishes.  He believes that fishing is one of the best ways to interest people in conserving fishes. Thank you to everyone in Dr. Baldwin’s lab for their experience and friendship.

University Liaison

Casey Murray


Casey Murray is a PhD student at the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Lab working with Dr. Matt DiMaggio. Her research interests include larval fish nutrition, gut enzyme ontogeny, and improving larval feeding protocols. Casey is studying both freshwater and marine ornamental fishes to develop species-specific feeding protocols and weaning schedules. Casey received her B.A. in Biology from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2015 where she discovered her passion for ornamental aquaculture during her senior thesis research on the determination of juvenile Banggai cardinalfish habitat preference.  Casey graduated from the University of Miami with a Master of Professional Science degree in 2017 where she studied the factors affecting loggerhead sea turtle hatch success in Everglades National Park.  Prior to starting at the Tropical Aquaculture Lab in 2019, Casey worked at Roger Williams University where she helped culture Atlantic lookdowns, glassy sweepers, and smallmouth grunts along with researching alternative protein sources in salmonid feeds.

In her spare time, Casey enjoys traveling, baking and spending time with her pet duck, Tiny.


Matt Woodstock


Matt Woodstock is from Footville, Wisconsin where he received a B.S. in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavioral Biology from Beloit College. During the summer of his junior year, he participated in shark and stingray tagging research near Clearwater, Florida and decided to follow the Marine Biology career path. He received an MS in Marine Biology from Nova Southeastern University and is currently a PhD student at Florida International University. While at NSU, he worked for the Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program, taught at a local museum, and found a love for deep-sea fishes. For his PhD, Matt is developing ecosystem models for the oceanic (seaward of the 1000m isobath) Gulf of Mexico to highlight the ecological importance of deep-sea organisms as both predators to zooplankton assemblages and prey to tunas and billfishes. Matt is also investigating the role vertically migrating fishes (e.g., lanternfish) have in carbon export/sequestration in the open ocean and the vertical movement of nutrients by deep-diving cetaceans.

Tampa Bay Habitat Restoration

By: Kailee Schultz, M.S University of Florida

Estuaries form a link between marine and freshwater environments, harboring a rich assemblage of fish and plant species (Attrill and Rundle 2002). Because human population growth is typically highest near the coast and coastal freshwater environments, the loss and degradation of estuarine habitat is a major threat to resident species (Fitzhugh and Richter 2004, Vitousek et al. 1997, Kennish 1991). This is especially true for Tampa Bay, where a growing population of over two million reside within the ~5,700 km2 watershed (Greening et al. 2014, Rayer and Wang 2015). Habitat loss and degradation has led to an interest in large-scale restoration (Yates et al. 2011, Russell and Greening 2015). While improving environmental conditions through reductions in nutrient inputs are well documented, the benefits of restored, reconnected, and created habitats are still poorly understood, despite large initial investments in restoration efforts (Russell and Greening 2015).

            The overall goal of my research is to understand how fish communities are utilizing restored habitats. Specifically, are restored sites functioning as suitable juvenile sportfish nurseries? I have two aims within these objectives: (1) describe the relationship between fish communities and habitat at three site types and (2) compare juvenile common snook (Centropomus undecimalis) growth and condition among habitats and sites.

            To accomplish this, I sampled three impacted, three restored, and three natural sites quarterly (Fig. 2). An impacted site is a historically dredged canal or ditch that received minimal subsequent modification. A restored site is an area that has been physically and biologically modified to restore or create landscape characteristics that support aquatic communities. A natural site is an area with minimal physical and biological alteration to aquatic habitat. Beginning in March 2018, fishes were sampled quarterly at all 9 sites. 9.1 m and 40 m nylon seines were used for up to 9 and 3 samples per site, respectively (Fig. 3 and 4).

Fig 2. The three restored (Cockroach Bay- restored, Rock Ponds, Terra Ceia), three impacted (Dug Creek, Newman Branch, E.G. Simmons), and three natural sites (Little Manatee, Cockroach Bay-natural, and Frog Creek) located within the Tampa Bay watershed.
Fig. 3. The 9.1 meter net being pulled into the shoreline at Terra Ceia Restoration site.
Fig. 4. The 40-meter net fully deployed and being pulled into the shore at Cockroach Bay natural site

Collected fishes were identified to the species level using methods developed by Kells and Carpenter (2011). All sportfish, fishes of economic importance, and non-native species were counted, measured, and released. A subsample of common snook were retained for later analysis, with a maximum of 45 common snook per site kept during each quarter. These common snook were weighed and measured (SL, FL, and TL). The sagittal otoliths were removed and processed following protocols developed by VanderKooy (2009) (Fig 5). Juvenile snook age was estimated by counting daily growth rings along the sulcus beginning at the core. Two independent readers estimated age for each otolith, with the mean value used for analysis if both estimates were within 10%. Further, total lipid analysis was completed on the retained snook using the standard Folch extraction methods (Folch et al 1956). The age and body condition of these juvenile snook will provide information on the functionality of the three site types. I also collected a variety of habitat parameters based on previous research by FWC’s Fisheries Independent Monitoring program (Table 1) and water quality which, when paired with the juvenile common snook condition, offer insight on the specific environmental conditions that provide functional juvenile sportfish nurseries.  

Fig 5. The ventral side of a juvenile Common Snook with its two otoliths exposed, the opaque, oval bones sitting within the brain cavity.
Table 1. Habitat characteristics that are recorded at each seine pull. Unit of measurements with two variables include a species and the amount of space it covered the seined area. Recorded levels refers to the maximum number of parameter types that can be examined.

Thus far, I have caught 49,108 fish, a majority of which were collected at restored sites (Fig. 6). I found a significant difference in the growth rate between the snook caught at the three site types; restored, impacted, and natural. (Fig 7.) Preliminary data show that juvenile common snook grow faster at restored sites and natural sites compared to those at impacted sites. The next step is to evaluate snook body condition at the three site types. I will use the habitat characteristics and growth and condition of the juvenile snook to understand which specific habitat parameters are key in promoting successful nursery environments. The community structure will be evaluated at each site to assess which features promote a functional nursery habitat.

Fig. 6 The number of animals (fish, shrimp, and crap species) caught at three site types. This is standardized by the number of individuals caught per seined m2.
Fig. 7 A comparison of juvenile common snook growth between three site types. There was a significant difference in mean growth rate between the three sites (F2,45 = 4.22, p = 0.021). Error bars represent SEM. Letters denote differences among site type as identified as TukeyHSD.

Habitat restoration is often conducted to benefit sportfish with many restorations aimed at improving nursery habitat (Lewis III 1992; Peters et al. 1998). This research will provide information on the parameters necessary in promoting juvenile sportfish success. Another goal for Tampa Bay restoration is enhancement of local diversity by creating and managing for habitat mosaics. To this end, I will compare fish community structure at sites with varying levels of habitat diversity. This research will be useful in future restoration projects and increase understanding of qualities that are important when designing and creating restoration projects. Habitat restoration is increasingly implemented as the human population continues to grow within the Tampa Bay watershed. Ultimately, my research will improve the effectiveness and utility of habitat restoration as it relates to fisheries resources.


Attrill MJ, Rundle SD (2002) Ecotone or ecocline: ecological boundaries inestuaries. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 55:929–936

Fitzhugh TW, Richter BD (2004) Quenching urban thirst: growing cities and theirimpacts on freshwater ecosystems. Bioscience 54:741–754

Folch, J. M. Less, and G.H. Sloane Stanley. 1956. A simple method for the isolation and purification of total lipids from animal tissues. Boston: Harvard University Press

Greening H, Janicki A, Sherwood ET, Pribble R, Johansson J (2014) Ecosys-tem responses to long-term nutrient management in an urban estu-ary: Tampa Bay, Florida, USA. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science151:A1–A16

Kells V, Carpenter K (2011) A field guide to coastal fishes: from Maine to Texas.JHU Press, Baltimore, MD

Kennish MJ (1991) Ecology of estuaries: anthropogenic effects. CRC Press, BocaRaton, FL

Lewis RR III (1992) Coastal habitat restoration as a fishery management tool.Pages 169–173. In: Stroud RH (ed) Stemming the tide of coastal fishhabitat loss. National Coalition for Marine Conservation Inc., Savannah, GA

Peters KM, Matheson RE Jr, Taylor RG (1998) Reproduction and early lifehistory of common snook, Centropomus undecimalis(Bloch), in Florida.Bulletin of Marine Science 62:509–529

Rayer S, Wang Y (2015) Pages 1–8. Projections of Florida population bycounty, 2015-2040, with estimates for 2014. University of Florida Bureauof Economic and Business Research Bulletin 171, Gainesville, FL

Russell M, Greening H (2015) Estimating benefits in a recovering estuary: TampaBay, Florida. Estuaries and Coasts 38:9–18

VanderKooy, S. 2009. A practical handbook for determining the ages of Gulf of Mexico fishes. Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commision Publication 167

Vitousek PM, Mooney HA, Lubchenco J, Melillo JM (1997) Human dominationof Earth’s ecosystems. Science 277:494–499

Yates KK, Greening H, Morrison G (2011) Integrating science and resourcemanagement in Tampa Bay, Florida. Circular No. 1348. U.S. GeologicalSurvey, Reston, VA