Florida Forage Fish Coalition

By Tim MacDonald and Kevin Thompson

Managing Florida’s marine fishery resources requires cross-discipline research on fish biology and demographics, the marine and upland ecosystems and the human impacts of fisheries and economics. A key aspect in understanding how fish interact with other species in a complex ecosystem is determining predator-prey interactions.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) recognized the importance of forage fish as a prey-base in 2015 when it signed a resolution recognizing that forage fish are vitally important to the state’s commercial and recreational fisheries which annually contributing $12.3 billion to the state’s economy and supporting over 100,000 jobs. Building on this resolution, the International Game Fish Association, Florida Wildlife Federation, Pew Charitable Trusts, and The Snook and Gamefish Foundation banded together to form the Florida Forage Fish Coalition. The Coalition has teamed up with the FWC to improve the understanding of forage fish population dynamics, recruitment processes, and the dietary needs of predators through the Florida Forage Fish Research Program Fellowships. The goal of these fellowships is to use data collected by FWC’s Fisheries-Independent Monitoring (FIM) program to inform policy decision that better support ecosystem balance and sustainable fisheries.

In a competitive process refereed by the coalition and FIM program staff, two fellowships, totaling $10,000 each, have been awarded for the 2017/2018 academic year. The two fellowships were awarded to Meagan Faletti at the University of South Florida and Dr. Edward Camp at the University of Florida.

Dr. Camp, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Florida will use diet data gathered by the FIM program for juvenile and adult Red Drum and juvenile Gag. He will be identify patterns in diet from estuaries throughout Florida’s Gulf Coast for these two critical species. He will be using emerging analytical techniques to illustrate how prey resources vary through space and time and how that relates to observed predation by these two species. This will provide insight into the importance of particular forage fish as prey, and how the prey are used by predators in relation to abundance. This represents a critical step in understanding these complex ecosystems and how forage fish support larger economically more valuable species.

Meagan Faletti is pursuing her graduate degree at the University of South Florida as a student of Dr. Chris Stallings. Her fellowship involves a new technique that analyzes eye lenses to identify where a fish lived during different life history stages. Concentrations of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopes in eye lenses reflect the environment in which the fish lived when the eye lens was deposited. Once deposited in the lens, these concentrations do not change, and the environmental concentrations of these isotopes follow latitudinal (δ15N) or depth (δ13C) gradients. By identifying the concentrations of these isotopes, Meagan will be able to determine spawning locations and movements of Pinfish throughout their life history. She will be looking at lenses from Pinfish in four different estuaries (Charlotte Harbor, Tampa Bay, Cedar Key, and Apalachicola Bay), allowing her to compare and contrast these processes between estuaries. This will provide information that can be used to protect ecosystems that are critical to Pinfish during various life history stages.