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January 28, 2013

Scientists Continue Gulf Hatchery Efforts

Are hatchery-raised red snapper and seatrout helping Gulf of Mexico stocks?

Marine biologists are trying to learn whether they can increase populations of two of Gulf of Mexico's most popular fish species--seatrout and red snapper.

In recent years, researchers have been raising and releasing small fry of the two species back into the Gulf. But scientists have run into a host of issues, including finding cheap food sources that are small enouugh to feed red snapper fry. Or, how to get red snapper to spawn inside research facilities.

Hundreds of thousands of spotted seatrout and thousands of red snapper fingerlings have been released in recent years, all identifiable by tiny wire tags. Lately, scientists from USM and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources released just fewer than 2,000 red snapper to an artificial reef south of Horn Island, Mississippi. 

Another problem is finding those fry again, once they've grown.

"Of nearly 600,000 or so specks released since 2006, only about 50 have been recovered," said Reginald Blaylock, director of the aquaculture center at the University of Southern Mississippi's (USM) Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs, Miss.

And so that begs the questions ... Is releasing hatchery-raised fish into the wild worth the cost? And does it positively affect natural stocks?

The start of recent hatchery science is traced back to 1989. Since then, there have not been many success stories. But the benefits of hatchery raised fish surviving in the wild are numerous, enough so that fisheries researchers continue. 

To read this complete story, check out the article from the Associated Press.