Bryan Butler, an aquaculture teacher at Ocean Springs High School, has been helping students raise fish for years.
Sophomores, juniors, and seniors in his classes received speckled trout and red drum from The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Gulf Coast Research Lab (GCRL) Sept. 11, 2022, and for nine months, they were their responsibility. Recently, Butler and his students released a group of these fish into the Gulf of Mexico as part of a class curriculum.“I love how I can involve students in something they are going to enjoy,” Butler said. “We have raised these fish together.”
When the students first receive the fish, they are brought to their classroom greenhouse, each about two centimeters (about 0.79 in) in length. After nine months, the fish grow to be 15-16 centimeters (about 5.91 in) long. The speckled trout has a 72 percent survival rate, whereas the red drum has a 76 percent survival rate.
Seventy-five fish are tagged per tank. A total of 735 red drum and 760 speckled trout were released. Each student will tag the fish for tracking. If caught by local fishers, they will see the tags include unique information featuring the student handler’s graduation class, data from the fish, and Butler’s cell phone number.
Students have also made the curriculum fun by naming their groups of fish. One group named theirs “Lady Gar-Gar” along with those of other famous singers.
Once the students arrived at the facilities of the GCRL’s Halstead Campus, they started to condition the water, a process where water from the Gulf of Mexico is pumped into a tank for mixing and blending.
“This will help the fish get accustomed to the temperature when going into the water,” said Butler.
Butler’s goal is to closely match the water temperature of the Gulf, so the fish don’t go into shock when released.
Dr. Kelly Darnell, interim director of the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, said this collaboration has been going on for years.
“We are very proud of this program and the release of the fish,” said Dr. Darnell. “These students are responsible from the start. Every day they are in the aquaculture facilities in the high school.”
Butler said the idea for the aquaculture program came from the Mississippi Department of Education. With the Mississippi Gulf Coast being so heavily saturated with wildlife and a large seafood industry, aquaculture is the future and a big part of the Blue Economy.
Ocean Springs High School has become the first in the South to use red drum as a species for its aquaculture education curriculum. Red drum adds a new species to study along with the speckled trout used in years past.
Butler said he strives to make this curriculum fun and interactive. Once students graduate, they often return to reminisce about their time raising their fish in the aquaculture lab; many have obtained jobs at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.
“We make it a competition,” Butler continued. “I give out trophies at the end of the year and see whose tank has the most fish raised. We also measure and see which group has the largest fish.”
He said the program positively impacts him and his students, further noting “They always remember what fish they raised.”
To learn more about aquaculture programs and the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, please visit https://www.usm.edu/gulf-coast-research-laboratory/