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Seabass in the Classroom

By Holly Rindge, Communications Manager
September 11, 2015. Innovative aquaculture program inspires students   


“Give your fish a hand hug,” says Mike Shane, to a room full of eager students.  Shane, a research scientist at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI), is demonstrating how to pick up, measure, and weigh white seabass to marine biology students at the Port of Los Angeles High School (POLA). POLA students are the first in Los Angeles County to raise juvenile white seabass in their classroom as part of the Seabass in the Classroom Project (SITC). 

SITC is an extension of HSWRI’s Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program, a comprehensive marine fisheries stock enhancement program. The project ties closely with HSWRI’s applied aquaculture research. During the school year, students raise white seabass in their classrooms: feeding; monitoring growth; implanting identification tags in each fish; and releasing them into local oceans. 

Students measure juvenile white seabass

Bringing SITC to POLA is part of an innovative research project funded by a competitive NOAA Aquaculture grant received by USC Sea Grant. The research focuses on testing new technology for a self-cleaning aquaculture tank for marine fish. The success of the tank design would significantly advance marine aquaculture in the United States by improving growth and survival of fish larvae and reducing labor costs. POLA students have a version of one of the new self-cleaning tanks in their classroom. 

“Aquaculture education does not exist in your textbooks,” Shane tells the class.  “This is a unique program not just in Southern California, but in the nation.” 

The students crowd around a bucket of 15 white seabass and watch as the alert fish begin to slow down and swim in uneven loops, even upside down. They are being anesthetized so the students can weigh, measure and transfer them into the classroom tank. Students begin to pull on blue latex gloves and reach into the bucket. The technology and biology aspects of the program excite environmental science teacher Tim Dikdan. 

“This program gives them real science,” says Dikdan. “I hope this puts a spark in someone.” 

Students weigh juvenile white seabass

Bred at HSWRI’s aquaculture research lab in San Diego, the juvenile white seabass are now 108 days old and between 3-5 inches long. The students will raise them for another 60 days and then, following a health inspection by California Department of Fish and Wildlife, release them into the ocean.  Beginning in the 1980’s, HSWRI has raised and released 2.2 million fish to help enhance the stock of this popular sport and commercial fishery. 

Connecting aquaculture research to classrooms ties in with POLA’s science curriculum and USC Sea Grant’s Education Programs Manager Linda Chilton has been working with POLA teachers and students for months to help prepare them for SITC.  Through this program, students are learning about the economics and environmental impacts of aquaculture, engineering and technology, biology, water quality, fish husbandry, math, and ways to evaluate human impacts on the ocean. 

“Bringing hands on experiences to the classroom helps students recognize their own potential for future careers, empowers them to design solutions and to become informed decision makers,” says Chilton. “These students extend their experiences into the community and become the future problem solvers we need.” 

Students often tell Dikdan that they enjoy a subject, yet ask, ‘but what would I do with it?’ “This is what you can do,” says Dikdan.  “This is a field exploding. It’s an opportunity coming their way. “ 

We’ll be following the progress of SITC at POLA over the next 60 days…stay tuned for more!

                        A student transfers a juvenile white seabass into the new self-cleaning aquaculture tank at Port of Los Angeles High School 

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