By Emma Fass, Summer Science Writing Intern
In pursuing his master’s degree, Joseph Schmitt researched blue catfish in the Midwest, where they are native. As a 2015 Virginia Sea Grant graduate research fellow, Schmitt will continue studying blue catfish, but as a non-native species in Virginia.
“Blue catfish in Virginia’s tidal rivers are a complex problem, as they support an expanding commercial fishery and a nationally renowned trophy fishery,” says Schmitt, while at the same time they are a non-native species. “Interactions with stake-holders will be an essential component of this project.”
Since their introduction, blue catfish in the Chesapeake Bay have grown numerous and large. This has led to a concern that they are preying on the Bay’s commercially important fish, such as blue crab. Catfish also seem well adapted to disturbed ecosystems near urban areas, such as Richmond and Newport News. Schmitt hopes to build on past research by providing site-specific food habits data and consumption estimates.
Schmitt hopes to foster communication between researchers and stakeholders through a variety of tools. He plans to use new and social media, such as blogging and Twitter, to reach a diverse audience. In order to drive up user traffic, the link to his blog will be available on the Virginia Chapter of the American Fisheries Society website, the Virginia Tech Chapter AFS website, and popular catfishing forums. “I hope to promote change through transparency, education, and by developing relationships with policymakers and stakeholders,” he says.
Schmitt graduated with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry from Christopher Newport University in 2009 and received an MS in fisheries and aquatic ecology from Oklahoma State University in 2012. He is now pursuing his PhD in fish and wildlife conservation at Virginia Tech.