One fish, two fish, no red fish, just blue fish

Well there are a lot more than two, but how many people would have guessed there were any blue catfish at all? Who even really thinks about what kind of catfish they’re dealing with when they find one in a river? I definitely didn’t, but thanks to my experiences this semester at the OBX field site, I definitely will in the future. My name is Thomas Hennessey, and for my semester-long internship, I’ve been able to work with Sara Mirabilio of North Carolina Sea Grant and Ladd Bayliss of North Carolina Coastal Federation to learn something about the invasive blue catfish crowding our waters, and do some pretty cool things along the way.

When I first heard about this internship opportunity, I knew it would be interesting since the topic hadn’t gotten much attention in this area before, but I wasn’t sure how we’d go about actually studying it. The best way, after some initial lit review on how blue catfish have impacted other areas, turned out to be the clunky and messy way, looking at Division of Marine Fisheries datasets that hadn’t been looked at in this way before. I had worked on projects similar to this one before, but never with the same level of interdisciplinary focus or data retrieval/analysis complexity. Luckily though, my mentors had, and were able to break down a long and complicated project into interesting and very unique workdays, with time split between the Sea Grant offices at CSI and the nice new Coastal Federation building down the road.

The main focus of the internship was on creating a Situation Assessment for the blue catfish population in the area. This basically came down to organizing DMF records for numbers of catfish (both young and old) and their lengths in a way that gave us a timeline for how the population changed since their arrival. One of the coolest parts of this was when I got to take a trip north to Edenton to see firsthand how this data is during one of the DMF Chowan River surveys. We stopped at a number of set locations and tossed a huge net behind our tiny boat, then trawled around for about 10 minutes before hauling the net back up to count/measure its contents. It was a long and sometimes painful process, but was a lot of fun and helped us feel a lot better about the data we were using.

The biggest highlight, though, was the opportunity to present what we had found during all those long data and policy analysis days to the public at a “Fish and Flights” dinner event last week. A good number of people were there for some really well prepared plates of blue catfish. (And I got some as well. Another great thing about this internship was knowing every day that I might be getting some really good food.) This presentation gave me some great experience in interpreting science for a general audience, which could certainly be in my future as I consider careers in environmental policy and ecosystem management. Thanks again to Corey Adams, my fantastic mentors, and the OBX field site for making this possible!

And as I’ve said in multiple presentations now: If you do a lot of fishing and catch a lot of these catfish, don’t hesitate to keep them! Our beautiful coastal ecosystem will be better for it.