Outdoors: Fisherman’s greatest ally: ecology databank

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Posted: Sunday, September 22, 2013 12:01 am

Just about everybody has heard of Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, also-known-as “Johnny Football” — and a little further south of College Station is A&M’s Corpus Christi campus, where Dr. James Simons could easily be considered “Jimmy Ocean.” This week’s feature (a sort of “who eats who”) is courtesy of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

About 1,500 marine fishes make the Gulf of Mexico their home. From birds, to fish, and marine mammals to crustaceans, the Gulf of Mexico Species Interaction database currently has diet data on over 600 of the marine fishes. It is the first and only database of its kind for the Gulf of Mexico that shows how the cataloged animals interact with each other in the food web.

“Unless you’re a scientist or grad student, you may have never wondered what preys on porcelain crabs,” said Simons, who created the database. “But if you’re a fisherman, you would probably like to know what type of critters your favorite game fish likes to eat.”

Simons started collecting data on how the different species of the Gulf interact in 1987, but it wasn’t until 2002 that he got the idea to put all of the information he had collected into one, easily accessible place: the worldwide web.

“In any ecosystem, it is important to know the food web, or who eats who,” said Simons. “This food web is the structure that shows us the pathways by which energy flows through the ecosystem.”

The scope of data includes the estuaries and coastal waters of Cuba, Mexico and the United States and all of the Gulf waters to the deepest realms. It has already proven valuable to various research projects, including a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration program that is creating fishery ecosystem models.

Recently, the data were used for a Gulf of Mexico Alliance project that studied the movement of mercury through Gulf food webs. The data that Simons collected was used to construct food webs for the king mackerel in six locations around the Gulf.

“Fisheries are especially important in the Gulf as a source of employment, income, recreation and food,” Simons said. “The detailed data provided by this project will hopefully improve the accuracy of the fishery models that are used, in part, to make management decisions.”

Simons also hopes to work with the Texas State Aquarium to show people, at any given display, where the fish they are seeing fit in the food web.

“For example, at the aquarium, you may see 10 fish in a tank, but the fish that eat those fish are not in the same tank, for obvious reasons, so you are only seeing half of the ecosystem,” Simons said. “Seeing the other half of the picture would be invaluable to young students.”

Fishin’ for Kids

The Optimist Club of Waco, along with Yowell’s Boat Yard, will host the fourth annual Fishin’ for Kids Bass Tournament on Saturday.

Competitors should arrive at Lake Waco’s Twin Bridges boat ramp by 6 a.m., and the first flight check-in will be at 3 p.m. at the same ramp. Weigh-in will be at Yowell’s, located at 3500 Franklin Ave. in Waco.

The entry fee is $160 per team (includes a “big bass” pot) and the payout is $2,000 for first place, with cash prizes awarded through fifth place. 100 percent of the big bass pot will go to the angler who catches the day’s heaviest bass.

For more information, call Donna Hawkins at 366-5948.



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