Tidewater ’11 Recap

After a brief blogcation due to lots of travel around Spring Break (woooo!), I’m back in action.  While I was gone I attended the 25th anniversary meeting of the AFS Tidewater Chapter, which includes the AFS subunits from North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware.  Like last year the conference was a good time, and are a nice change of pace from some of the larger AFS conferences in that it’s possible for one person to see all the talks, and there’s a much higher proportion of marine and estuarine content.  Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s look at the details.

This year’s meeting was held at VIMS in Gloucester Point, Virginia.  This differed from previous conferences in that the recommended hotel (the Duke of York in Yorktown) was not within walking distance of the conference venue, which made getting to and from the talks require a little more forethought (especially since the bridge between Gloucester and Yorktown has a $2 toll).  What this really meant was that we basically had to bring everything we needed for the day with us, which precluded my usual strategy of waiting to change in presentation clothes until less than half an hour before my talk.

Yorktown is a beautiful town, but with only three real restaurants and one bar, the social options were somewhat limited.  That said, conference attendees still managed to find recreation and still have a place to stumble back to, so a good time was had by all.

Oh yeah, we talked about some fisheries science too.  ECU rolled deep at this conference as we usually do.  Four ECUers presented posters, and another four of us gave talks.  The poster session was on Thursday night, and involved free beer and barbecue (yay!).  International sensation Andrea Dell’Apa introduced his recently started work on tagging and stock delineation of spiny dogfish off of Cape Cod.  Jocelyn Kim looked at striped bass larvae in the Roanoke River and attempted to see if there were any patterns of recruitment.  Joey Powers seined up a bunch of young of the year spotted seatrout and red drum to figure out their habitat preferences.  Jeff Dobbs popped ear bones out of stripers to determine if any North Carolina rivers other than the Roanoke are contributing significantly to striped bass reproduction.  Jeff’s poster also featured a badass hand-drawn striped bass that may have gotten him hired on commission to draw fish for other presentations (I may or may not have a dogfish vs. striped bass picture coming down the pipe from him).

All the student presentations were given on Friday, and the ECU contingent was strong there as well.  Wayne Mabe kicked off the whole session by characterizing the fish community in the sand flats of the Pamlico River.  Turns out that spots that are good for beach seining are also important habitat for juveniles of economically-important species like menhaden and spot (which is also good news for people who do seining surveys).  Dan Zapf gave yet another fantastic talk on river herring natal habitat, with the potentially game-changing revelation that some blueback herring may never even bother with the whole anadromy thing, and may actually benefit reproductively from it.  Some windbag named Chuck Bangley talked about dogfish feeding habits and how they vary with shark size and depth, and also mentioned the fact that every so often striped bass get owned by them.  In the process, I managed to go over time (sorry guys!) and set off some very interesting after-talk conversations.  Finally Jacob Boyd gave an overview of how he’s updating the maturation schedule for striped bass because the last major survey was undertaken in the early 90s, and quite a bit has happened in terms of striped bass abundance since then.  Jacob also won the prestigious Eileen Setzler-Hamilton Memorial Scholarship, and will be the North Carolina Chapter President-elect next year, which means he’ll be instrumental in planning Tidewater ’12 when it’s hosted in North Carolina (golf claps for Jacob!).

In case you thought ECU was the only important group at this conference, here are some other posters and presentations that were at least quite interesting to my shark puke-addled mind.

Matt O’Brien from the University of Maryland Chesapeake Biological Laboratory presented research that shows that the connectivity between the coastal bays and beach habitats of the Atlantic City region is important to the fish community there, and that different species utilize those habitats at different times.

Branid Salmon and Mariah Bell from UNC-Wilmington gave posters on the feeding habits of two pelagic predators found in southern NC waters: dolphinfish and wahoo.  While both are big fish eaters (and apparently depend quite heavily on bullet tuna, a species no one seems to know anything about), dolphinfish will also eat squid and crustaceans while wahoo are just too good for crustacean prey.  It’s always cool to be able to check out other diet studies.

-Most of the talks around mine also involved feeding habits in some form.  Alison Deary from VIMS looked at the jaw ecomorphology of Scianids, a very diverse group that includes detritovores like spot, benthic predators like red drum, and piscivores like weakfish.  Zach Gillum from UNC-W reported on the digestion rates of juvenile red drum.  They digest their food a hell of a lot faster than dogfish.

-I’m a big fan of hogchokers because I think they look like muppets.  Therefore I was interested in the talk given by H.G. Brooks (didn’t catch his first name), which looked at the sheer abundance of hogchokers in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.  Not especially important economically, but they sure are endearingly ugly.

Amanda Colton from the CBL looked at blue crabs in different estuaries along the east coast and attempted to find out if patterns of abundance were synchronized between populations in the same general region.  What she found was that to a certain extent they do, but for some reason North Carolina correlates with New York and New Jersey.  Interesting stuff.

Sara Mirabilio from the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries presented research demonstrating how different designs for Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on flounder trawls may be able to also reduce bycatch of other species while actually improving the flounder catch.  I was interested in Sara’s talk because I almost rode along on her survey to sample dogfish, and dogfish were the second most common bycatch species after clearnose skates.  Hopefully these methods can be tweaked to the point where bycatch can be minimized without putting fishermen out of a job.

-Several sources of diet data came together in Michelle Staundinger‘s (UNC-W) on the feeding habits of the pelagic predators of North Carolina.  Her talk mainly focused on dolphinfish, wahoo, and blackfin tuna and where their trophic levels shake out.  Despite the fact that blackfin tuna are smaller overall than wahoo, they showed up at a higher trophic level due to the fact that they consume prey that sits at a higher trophic level (that’s cheating!).  I’ve seen this happen for the same reason in studies on sharks (one paper put spiny dogfish considerably below other small European sharks because of their tendency to eat ctenophores, and I’ve seen another study where blue sharks showed up higher than makos because blues were picking off baby porpoises), so it was interesting to see it in other fish.  Michelle also found evidence that squid, despite being a an important prey species, may also be important predators in their own right.

Of course there were other interesting talks and presentations as well, but those are the ones that really stood out to me.  Keep checking the Tidewater website for pictures from the conference and other recaps.  Good times, and I for one am psyched about it being in North Carolina next year.