Fish spill their guts for science

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

July 8, 2015 at 11:36 p.m.
Updated July 9, 2015 at midnight

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James Simons, an associate research scientist at Texas A&M, is asking Gulf fishermen to save their fish guts in the name of science.

PORT ARANSAS - A researcher with Texas A&M University Corpus Christi is trying to get the inside scoop on fish guts.

James Simons is collecting fish innards from anglers and charter boat operators from Port O'Connor to Port Mansfield in hopes of learning more about the diets of fish.

The data will go into a model that can help fishery managers predict the effects of overfishing, oil spills and algal blooms.

"These affect not only the target species of the fishery but all fish," Simons said.

Simons is collecting the stomach, intestinal tract and a small piece of tissue - parts of the fish that would normally be thrown out - from 40 species of Gulf fish.

While the main hub of his carcass collection will be Port Aransas, Simons will make trips to the Crossroads for the guts of fish in Port O'Connor.

Those who fish on a deep sea charter with Double J Sport Fishing, based in Port O'Connor, could be contributing to Simons research.

The owners of Double J Sport Fishing, James Helm II and James Helm Jr., have agreed to contribute carcasses to the researcher.

"Having the scientists that are there and willing to do the research is a good resource to have," Helm II said. "We get to learn more about what we love doing best, which is catching fish."

With research partners in Florida and Mexico, Simons hopes to get a full picture of the Gulf ecosystem.

But in preparing for the study, Simons realized how important the data collection will be to shoring up missing pieces of information from local fisheries.

"We need a lot of data for the Texas Coast," he said. "We're missing a lot."

So far, fish houses have been receptive to Simons' interest in their guts.

In Port Aransas on July 2, Joseph Matocha cleaned red snapper from a charter boat of fishing tourists.

"I have no problem supporting research," he said. "You never know unless someone does what he's doing if something you're doing is damaging the ecosystem."

In recent years, more restrictions have been placed on red snapper. Some fishermen and women feel like the regulations have created an overabundance of the species.

"I've heard some captains say it's difficult to catch other fish," Matocha said. "It's like piranhas that are taking over."

Red snapper wasn't initially on Simons list of target species, but he added the species when he discovered the data for red snapper was outdated.

"It's such a hot button fish because many, many people want to catch it and eat it, and it's very heavily regulated," he said. "Knowing better the diets of the red snapper now, not 30 or 40 years ago, is really important."

As for the men and women who are catching the fish, most will have no idea their trip to the sea will further science.

When Austin Olson and his girlfriend, Sierra Nulton, picked up their cleaned red fish July 2, they were in for a surprise.

"I honestly had no clue," Olson said. "Well, at least it's going somewhere. It's better if it's used. That's how I think of it."



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