GCRL Involves Students and Local Anglers in Research on Red Drum in Mississippi Waters

Why Red Drum?
Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) is a commonly harvested species that occurs in coastal Mississippi waters. The Red Drum population is therefore a valuable resource in the northern Gulf of Mexico, and is primarily harvested by recreational anglers using hook-and-line fishing. Despite the value of this species, information about the life history of Red Drum in this area is limited. 

The Red Drum recreational fishery is one of the most popular in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Due to the popularity of red drum among recreational fishermen, ongoing data collection is essential to proper management of the species. The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Lab hopes that in conjunction with local anglers and charter captains we will be able to gather the data needed to address questions concerning Red Drum life history in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

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Project Details

The main goals of the research project are:

  1. Engage up to six high school and community college students or USM undergraduate students in the research project
  2. Describe demographic characteristics of Red Drum including the reproductive biology (age at first reproduction, seasonality of spawning, and length-specific fecundity) and refining the ambiguous age-at-length relationship. Additionally, we will determine seasonal patterns in diet using carbon and nitrogen isotope signatures and stomach content analysis.
  3. Inspire participating students to pursue further education and careers in the coastal and marine sciences.
  4. Develop science education curriculum from the project to be incorporated into the Marine Education Center K-12 programs.

The age of these fish are estimated by counting yearly growth rings on otoliths (inner-ear stones), which grow like the rings in a tree. Studying the reproductive biology of a fish involves looking at the tissue on a cellular level to describe the development of reproductive organs leading up to, during, and after spawning events. With the information obtained from the aforementioned data scientist can see at what age and size female red drum are able to spawn, thus contributing new fish to the population. This information is valuable when in regards to conserving this very economically and recreationally important resource.

What makes this project unique?

The project is titled Involving Student Populations In Research and Education (INSPIRE) and is unique in that it actively engages high school, community college, and undergraduate university students from the three coastal counties of Mississippi. These groups of students often have limited opportunities to be involved in and understand the research process. This limitation can cause students to be discouraged in pursuing further education and careers in the sciences. Project INSPIRE challenges and engages students to fully participate in the research project that will further the understanding of the Red Drum within the Mississippi Sound. As a result of this project students will gain a vested interest in our coastal resources and will directly contribute to the knowledge base that resource managers can utilize to make informed decisions on this fishery. It is also anticipated that some of the students participating in this project will go on to pursue science-based education and careers. Students interested in serving as an intern on the project should complete the following application form by October 21, 2016 and submit it to Ben Weldon at benjamin.weldon@usm.edu.

Project INSPIRE also engages local anglers, charter captains, state agencies, and conservation groups such as CCA. This project has allowed GCRL to strengthen its partnerships with the local fishing community and provides them the opportunity to contribute to GCRL’s research efforts.

How to get involved

Anglers can get involved by contacting researchers at GCRL when a Red Drum is caught in state waters.  The research team will weigh and measure each fish, and remove only the otoliths and reproductive organs. The sample collection process does not damage the fillets in any way, and anglers can keep the fillets after the fish has been processed. The fish must be kept whole on ice and submitted within 24 hours of being caught. Any legal-size red drum is valuable to the research. Anglers may bring the fish to GCRL or arrangements can be made to meet a team member at a convenient location.

Anglers interested in participating should contact Corbin Bennetts at 228.818.8816 (office) or 719.221.3341 (cell) or  Corbin.bennetts@eagles.usm.edu.



Funding for this research is provided by the Mississippi Tidelands Trust Fund and administered by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.