Better Boating and Fishing Through Science

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I’m a boater, a fisherman and a conservationist. So, when I see or hear about new initiatives that could ultimately improve my chosen pastime and the boating industry’s continued success, I like to call attention to them. Here are a few you likely haven’t heard about:

Researchers at the University of Washington are studying how to control the brain, and they might have found the answer in an eel-like fish. (My wife has already ordered one.)

According to Amanda Zhou writing in the Seattle Times, a team at UW Medicine, Washington University in St. Louis and other institutions say they’ve successfully used a protein that comes from a jawless lamprey eel that could eventually be used to treat mood disorders, addictions, depression and even pain. The protein is called parapinopsin.

“This is a perfect rationale for why basic science is so incredibly important. Because of someone’s hard work of basic biological discovery, we have a new tool for medical research,” lead corresponding author and UW professor Michael R. Bruchas said in a news release.

Aside from the great potential human benefits, if this research is successful, I suggest rounding up all the sea lamprey eels that have invaded the Great Lakes and attach themselves to and kill good sportfish like lake trout and coho salmon. Take it from this angler, that would be a win-win!

Speaking of winning, how about facial recognition — for fish? Seriously. Right now, researchers are developing and testing technology on Asian carp in their long-standing battle to keep these fish from ever entering the Great Lakes at Chicago. Hey, carp have faces, too.

Recent reports in the Chicago Tribune by Morgan Green speculate: “A day is coming on the Illinois River when a fish swims up a chute, slides through a scanner, and, after being recognized as a feared silver carp, is sorted and removed, eventually ending up in a carp burger on your dinner plate!”

Not familiar with Asian carp? There are several species that escaped from farm ponds into the Mississippi River years ago, moved north, and now threaten the fisheries in all the Great Lakes if they ever gain entrance into Lake Michigan. They are voracious feeders (up to 100 pounds per day) and could wipe out the food supply for native fish and the commercial and vibrant recreational fisheries. I know first-hand the potential disaster because I fished lakes Michigan, Erie and Ontario for nearly 40 years.

Credit for this facial recognition work goes to the Nature Conservancy, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Natural History Survey and Seattle-based Whooshh Innovations, a company known for its viral fish tube dubbed the “salmon cannon.”

Elsewhere, work that promises to restore our nation’s coral reefs deserves a big shout out. After all, aside from their inherent beauty and shoreline protection, reefs are the nurseries for hundreds of fishes we pursue in saltwater fisheries and are so vital to Florida’s residents and tourism. And the Florida Aquarium in Tampa has a coral conservation program that’s racking up big success.

The team at the aquarium’s Center for Conservation has thus far reproduced 10 species of Atlantic corals in the lab that are part of the effort to save the Florida Reef Tract, the third largest barrier reef in the world that stretches 360 miles along the southeastern Florida coast.

According to senior scientist Keri O’Neil, her team wants people to know coral are animals.

“They’re not plants. They’re not rocks. They don’t get up and move around, and they don’t have eyeballs. But they’re kind of like an anemone — a community living together,” O’Neil explains.

Pollution and warming sea temperatures are taking a heavy toll on existing coral. “A lot of our coral species can no longer reproduce in the wild because there are so few of them left,” O’Neil told Philip Morgan at the Tampa Bay Times. “So, we are trying to start just by making sure that we can continue reproduction,” she continued. “Then once you can do that reliably – grow babies – then you can start to look at things like, can you make a disease-resistant strain? Can you make a heat tolerant strain? Even better, can you make a disease-resistant and heat-tolerant strain?” she adds.

Click here to learn more about this excellent coral program.

One more Could seaweed be an answer to the 5,000-plus square-mile “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere?

It’s very possible, according to the Phoebe Racine, a researcher at the University of California at Santa Barbara commenting to Bloomberg. She and her colleagues have already mapped suitable areas for seaweed farms in the Gulf totaling more than 24,000 miles of potential sites.

Seaweed farms, if planted in sufficient numbers, could soak up much of the damaging phosphorus and nitrogen runoff from Midwest farm fertilizers and animal waste that flows down the Mississippi into the Gulf. That is the major cause of the “dead zones” from which fish and other sea life must flee or die.

In fact, “dead zones” are proliferating not just in the U.S. but all over the world. Known as eutrophication, currently there are 700 known coastal zones worldwide that are either “dead zones” or negatively impacted by runoff. The need to find solutions is pressing.

Seaweed farming has enormous promise say the experts. However, they also emphasize it is imperative to find and implement programs that reduce upstream waste and runoff as well.

Overall, it’s exciting to learn there are researchers working in many different programs dedicated to finding methods that will conserve and improve our waterways, advance our fisheries and, by their nature, ensure our future boating lifestyle. 


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