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Fish tale with new hook

Middle schoolers get the hang of feeding squid to redfish at a research facility.

By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2003

PALMETTO -- Ellen Nadeau, a petite sixth-grader with dark brown pigtails, scrunched up her face as she grasped a chunk of squid and tossed it into the 1-acre pond. A second later, she saw a redfish splashing and thrashing beneath the surface as it snapped up the lunchtime treat.

Soon, 11-year-old Ellen and several of her peers in gifted science classes at Kennedy Middle School in Clearwater eagerly hurled squid after squid into the pond.

"I usually don't touch fish, but it was more fun than I thought," Ellen said Wednesday.

About 50 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from Kennedy Middle traveled to Manatee County to learn the ins and outs of redfish. They got a tour of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Florida Marine Research Institute Stock Enhancement Research Facility at Port Manatee, which is raising fish and monitoring them as part of a study called Project Tampa Bay.

There's also something fishy going on at Kennedy Middle School.

About 15 to 20 of the coppery fish supplied by the facility are swimming around a 40-gallon tank in Brian MacKenzie's classroom, where his students are taking care of them and learning about the project.

"I wanted to show them where our program originated from and let them see science in everyday life," said MacKenzie, who added that he also hoped to expose them to careers in marine science.

Annually, the facility hosts numerous visits for recreational anglers, but only about eight schools take advantage of the tours, according to outreach coordinator Gina Russo.

Since 1988, the facility has released 4.6-million redfish.

In 2000, Florida decided to begin a study on the impact of stock enhancement on recreational saltwater fishing, which has a $5.5-million annual economic impact on the state.

In the 1980s, a blackened redfish craze depleted the redfish supply throughout the Gulf Coast. Since 1986, the state and federal government established limits on the size and number of recreational catches.

And two years later, Florida enacted a complete ban on commercial harvests.

During their visit, Russo told the kids how several factors decrease the fish population, such as overfishing, pollution, Red Tide and natural disasters that ruin the habitat.

Russo also explained that the goal of the study was to determine the most cost-effective size of fish the facility can release with the highest survival rate. Currently researchers are releasing 1-inch, 3-inch and 6-inch fish, which cost 10 cents, 25 cents and $1.25, respectively, she said.

The kids checked out one of the 5,000-gallon climate controlled breeding tanks and saw how tiny redfish are tagged with minute slivers of wire that contain microscopic coding.

Next, it was time to feed some of the fish in one of a dozen aquaculture ponds and top off their visit with a couple of hours of fishing.

"It's just been a great experience, especially when we were feeding the fish. I can't wait until we go fishing," said sixth-grader Kristen Conchiglia, 12, who later caught a 10-inch redfish.

Sixth-grader Joe Stewart, 12, also said he had a blast after he snagged a ladyfish by hiding his hook inside his shrimp bait.

Each fish was released as soon as it was caught.

'It's great," he said. "I learned what redfish eat and what kind of bait to use."

Plus, he knows all about the fish in his classroom.

"Before I just thought it was a tank of fish. Now I know the concept of it," Joe said.

-- Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or at .


SCIENTIFIC NAME: Sciaenops ocellatus

COMMON NAMES: Red drum, channel bass, spottail and red bass

DESCRIPTION: Large-scaled, copper-bronze fish with one to several spots on the base of the tail.

HABITAT: Juveniles settle in inshore seagrass beds. Adults usually live in open oceanic and gulf waters and return to inshore areas to spawn. They reside throughout the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Coast.

LIFE SPAN: 25 to 35 years

REGULATIONS: Currently, anglers can keep one redfish per person per day and only if it is between 18 and 27 inches in length.

FLORIDA RECORD: 51 pounds, 8 ounces

-- Source Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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