Pittsburgh Rocks

Hey all.  The ECU contingent made it back from Pittsburgh last night and I’ve finally managed to eke out some time to collect my thoughts and recap the week (and what a week it was).  This was my first national AFS meeting, and it was a doozy.  Check below the jump for some of the talks I attended and my thoughts on the city of Pittsburgh itself, and be also head over to the Endolymph to check out Dan’s epic two-part recap of the week.

While Dan’s recap focuses on the alosines and otoliths side of the conference, I’ll cover the more marine, feeding, and shark-related goodness.  And this is where my one gripe about the AFS comes in.  I love the society and think it puts on great events, publishes some damn solid journals, and is generally worth being a part of (and relatively cheap for students), but there is a definite freshwater recreational bias to it.  In a four-day-long national meeting where you’d expect quite a bit of everything, there were only a handful of symposia dedicated to marine fisheries and even commercial fisheries in general.  Some anadromous fishes like herrings, salmon, and sturgeon got their own sets of talks, but even this only stretches the marine coverage so far (and most of those talks involved what those fish are up to up the river).  This did turn out to be somewhat of a positive logistics-wise, as I was usually able to stick to the same couple rooms for most of the day and had time to run and grab breakfast between some of the morning talks.  If I were into trout I imagine I’d have had a hell of time figuring out which talks to prioritize.  Anyway, that’s a minor gripe and I’m sure marine fisheries will become a bigger chunk of the proceedings as more of us insidiously infiltrate the society.  So what talks did I go to?

On Monday I attended the plenary talk by Jane Lubchenco, current head of NOAA.  Plenary sessions in general tend to be pretty broad and light on information, but I thought Lubchenco did a pretty good job of covering what NOAA’s up to these days, though she came just short of addressing the mistakes made during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  When the fact that NOAA is now monitoring deepwater plumes was mentioned, someone a few seats down muttered “about time.”

Two ECU folk gave talks Monday afternoon.  Dr. Roger Rulifson talked about stocking river herring in the lakes on the Eastern flood plains of North Carolina.  It turns out that this may subject the herring to higher mortality than expected and may not contribute much to reproductive success, but the potential is there for it to be a viable method.  Dr. Anthony Overton also gave a presentation on herring, talking about spatial and temporal variability in growth rates and mortality of herring in the Tar-Pamlico River.

Also of note was Johnny Moore from Delaware State’s talk on site fidelity of sand tiger sharks in the Delaware Bay.  Of course I’m a sucker for any shark talk and sand tigers are a favorite species of mine, but this had the added benefit of being a project that Dr. Brad Wetherbee, one of my professors from my days at URI, is involved in.  In this project sand tigers were captured via longline and tagged with acoustic transmitters, which would be picked up by passive receivers both in the bay and arrays set up by other researchers elsewhere along the Atlantic coast (the Rulifson lab’s array actually picked up a sand tiger or two from this study).  Their results suggest that sand tigers do tend to migrate back and forth between the same general areas, and one shark in particular made a regular habit of bouncing between Cape Canaveral and Delaware Bay.

Monday afternoon featured the poster session/social.  I drank some Yuengling and ate some good stuffed mushrooms while answering questions about my poster on what I’ve found so far with my work on spiny dogfish puke.  It turned out to be a pretty cool area to have a poster up; Jen Cudney and Garry Wright from the Rulifson lab had a poster on their work on dogfish distribution one poster down from mine, and right across from me were interesting diet-related posters from some cool people.  These were Amy Koske from UMass Amherst, who was presenting a poster on the feeding habits of dolphinfish and yellowfin tuna, and Kiersten Curti from the URI Graduate School of Oceanography (yeah alma mater!), who is developing a food web model on the Georges Bank ecosystem.  I genuinely enjoy poster sessions and it’s a little bittersweet that I now have enough data to start making the transition from posters to talks (I will not, however, miss standing more or less in one place for three hours in dress shoes on a concrete floor).

After forcing myself out of bed on Tuesday morning I caught the next round of talks in the Marine Ecology Symposium.  The first one I caught was by Elizabeth Fairchild, who used acoustic tags to demonstrate offshore spawning in winter flounder in the Massachusetts Bay.  Right after her came fellow Rulifson lab badass (and author of the Endolymph) Dan Zapf, who is attempting to use otolith microchemistry to define nursery habitat in North Carolina’s Albemarle Sound.  I thought he gave a kick-ass talk and is still one of the few people who can talk about otoliths in a way that doesn’t make my cartilaginous head spin.  You can read his take on his own talk here.

Tuesday afternoon I headed over to the Shad Symposium for two talks but ECU peeps.  Ken Riley gave a great talk on variation in early life history of river herring and American shad.  Larval and juvenile bony fish make me glad that I work with sharks every time I see them and hear about what it takes to ID and study them, so anyone who works on larval fish (especially herring) has my respect.  Sam Binion followed Ken up by talking about the foraging potential of larval shad and herrings as they head down the river into the sounds of North Carolina.  Unfortunately supporting my fellow ECUers caused me to miss a talk on turtle excluder devices by Sara Marbilio from the North Carolina DMF, which would have been interesting because I almost used their cruise as a platform for dogfish sampling.

Wednesday morning was a tough morning due to the fact that the student social had been the night before (among other things), and by the afternoon the marine talks were starting to dry up (pun not intended, but I’ll stick with it).  I caught a couple talks on ecosystem based management mainly because I’ve cited many papers by the people giving these talks.  The first was supposed to be by Jason Link, an all-around feeding ecology badass whose gave a great talk at AES, but unfortunately he couldn’t make it and Robert Gamble gave the talk instead.  Micheal Fogarty also gave a talk in this symposium that was more or less on the same stuff (even using some of the same figures).  The overall theme of the EBM talks was essentially that in order for ecosystem-based management to work, everyone has to communicate.  I find the subject interesting and it’s definitely a direction that management needs to go in, but most of the talks in this symposium were a bit on the broad and repetitive side.

Between the EBM talks I managed to catch Anna Webb’s talk on assessing under-represented species in fisheries surveys.  This talk was very interesting and was well worth rolling out of bed before noon.  Webb basically analyzed the catch data for species that are not vigorously assessed by the NOAA/NMFS trawl surveys, either because of perceived low importance or rarity.  This allowed her to determine whether some of these species are increasing or decreasing in abundance.  As someone who gets really excited about the weird things that come up in the net during trawls, this was an illuminating talk for me, and I hope she publishes this stuff.

My last talk of the conference was Dr. Rulifson’s talk on tidal power development in the Bay of Fundy.  Since the Bay of Fundy has the most extreme tides on earth, many think that it would be a great place to test out hydrokinetic power from tidal flow.  However, Dr. Rulifson’s talk showed that a lot still needs to be determined about how this might damage some of the large migratory fishes in the bay, and showed some gruesome examples of how these turbines can chop up striped bass, shad, and sturgeon.

Some of the ECU contingent had to get back in town by Thursday night and I left with them, so unfortunately I missed everything on Thursday.  Among the missed talks was Marissa Brady’s presentation on American eel population dynamics.  Marissa is part of the Dewayne Fox lab at Delaware State and people from this lab tend to get along well with the ECU crowd, so we like to try and support each other when possible.  Hopefully Marissa is at Tidewater this year and hopefully I can actually make it to her talk then.

So that’s the talks, so what about the fun parts?  I can honestly state that as a city Pittsburgh surprised the hell out of me.  I’d heard that it had undergone a real resurgence in the past decade but was unprepared for just how clean, cultural, and fun a city it was.  The convention center was an awesome-looking building with a lot of green design features, and the area around the hotel and convention center had quite a bit going on (though later in the week we would discover the South Side, which set a whole new standard for “stuff going on”).  We were able to find some kind of after-hours entertainment every night of the conference.  Karaoke was sung, pool was played, dancing was hilarious, and overall a good time (possibly too good) was had by all.  I’d visit Pittsburgh again, if for no other reason than to get to Casey’s on a Monday or Saturday night (those at the conference or familiar with Pittsburgh know exactly why).

The social events at the Tidewater conference were impressive for such a small conference.  Apparently this is a feature of AFS in general because a super-sized conference lead to proportionally super-sized socials.  The welcome social on Monday was a relatively low-key buffet and hang-out session in the conference center, which had a gorgeous view of the Allegheny River (though the balcony we decided to check said view out on turned out to have a door that locked behind us).  Tuesday’s student social was on a boat (yes, they played that song) and drinking and dancing was on hand as we cruised all three of Pittsburgh’s rivers.  Wednesday took the cake, though.  This was the “Grand Social,” which meant the entire Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium was open to us with food and (open) bars placed strategically throughout.  This allowed me to combine two of my favorite activities: drinking good beer and staring into a shark tank like a five-year-old.

Overall I had a fantastic time at the annual AFS meeting.  Next year’s is in Seattle, and I will see you there.