Students at the Somerset Community College Laurel Campus had a chance to get into something fishy during the Spring 2016 semester as they relocated paddlefish into tanks in London, Ky.According to Roberta Barbalace, assistant professor of Biology at SCC, the students were assisting Ken Semmens, Kentucky State University assistant professor in Aquaculture, and other KSU faculty and staff to relocate the paddlefish to decommissioned tanks at the London wastewater treatment plant. Before the move, Kentucky State University (KSU) signed a memorandum of agreement to use the decommissioned tanks for aquaculture production and as a field station. The agreement was beneficial for both KSU and SCC for several reasons. First, KSU was able to use the relocation, and ongoing research, to educate and promote the region in aquaculture and agriculture. Second, the paddlefish are like sharks in that they cannot swim backward and they are also ram breathers, said Barbalace, and can only live when moving forward. The circular tanks provided a safe environment for the fish since there are no corners, she said. Third, according to grant documentation, the project presented an opportunity for KSU to attract and educate more students from underrepresented groups in aquaculture/agriculture, as well as provide training to develop new farmers and will help get live fish from the area to larger markets through the development of a distribution center. Barbalace said two students from her Bio112 class chose to participate in the voluntary seining of fish on a cold March day. Eight students helped in April. The students got into chest waders and helped count, weigh, sort and place the fish, said Barbalace. They loved it. Paddlefish, which can weigh up to 50 pounds when fully grown, are being raised for commercial production and caviar, said Barbalace. At one time, the species was nearly extinct, but programs such as the one SCC and KSU are participating in, are helping reestablish the species, as well as evaluate the feasibility of raising the fish for commercial purposes in rural areas. According to the grant, led by Semmens, the specific goals of the project are: to develop best management practices for the use of reclaimed water in decommissioned facilities for aquaculture; to evaluate filtration systems for live fish holding systems; to establish a distribution center for enabling live fish marketing; to develop career opportunities in aquaculture to associate degree students in KCTCS; and to develop an outreach program for aquaculture training using decommissioned water treatment plants and marketing. Together, SCC students and faculty worked with KSU faculty and staff to move more than 2,000 fish into the tanks. A few were not big enough to survive and those were moved to ponds in Kentucky and Ohio, Barbalace said. Exposing students to a variety of careers is one of the main reasons Barbalace said she encouraged her students to volunteer for the project, she said.
Most of them have no clue what is available to them with a biology degree, Barbalace said. I want to show them there are many job opportunities and research possibilities. They were able to participate in a fun, unique opportunity that involved both biology and statistics, as they had to learn to take a statistically significant sample during the procedure and learn a little bit about how academic research works.amp;rdrdquo;One student, Corey McWilliams, of Lily, loved the experience so much he is spending the summer volunteering with the program.
I wanted to assist with the paddlefish seining because I knew that it would begreat opportunity to learn about how people in the aquaculture community farm fish such as paddlefish, said McWilliams. From the experience of seining fish I have learned a lot, butthe mostinteresting detail I learned from seining paddlefish is that paddlefish have very few bones in their body, making it easier to safely transport them without worrying about harming them.The fish will be monitored throughout the research project. According to Semmens, having student involvement was important, as was having the support of the facility and the community. Of note, Semmens said, James Poindexter, chief plant operator, was critical in making the project a reality. To find out more about the paddlefish aquaculture project, contact Semmens at (502) 597-6871 or firstname.lastname@example.org.