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Juniata Researchers Collaborate with Fishermen on Striped Bass Project

(Posted May 12, 2003)


HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Sportsmen who just can't fit another trophy striped bass onto the wall of the den can now donate their catch to science as part of a Juniata College research project in collaboration with the Raystown Striper Club at the club's annual Stu Tinney Reunion Striper Tournament held May 17 and 18, 2003 at Raystown Lake.

According to Jill Keeney, associate professor of biology at Juniata College, researchers will remove the stomach and liver of each fish donated to the project from those caught at the tournament. The organs from each fish will be preserved as part of a multifaceted research project that may expand to explore several different areas within the biology of the striped bass.

Last year, fishermen donated more than 30 striped bass (Morone saxatilis) from the 2002 Tinney tournament. Keeney and Chuck Yohn, director of Juniata's Raystown Field Station, collected stomach samples as the initial step in a project tracking what kind of fish striped bass typically eat. Juniata science students will collect specimens this year.

"The striped bass is not native to Raystown and has been introduced into the lake through annual stocking," Keeney explains. "By examining the stomach contents of each sample fish, we can establish a baseline of data that shows what type of fish constitute the diet for the striped bass."

In some cases, introduced fish species can detrimentally affect the populations of native fish or other sports fish in Raystown Lake such as the largemouth and smallmouth bass. Recently, the introduction of the northern pike, a voracious eater, into lakes in the western United States has wreaked havoc with populations of native fish.

"At every sport fishing lake there is discussion about what fish are eating and which fish are being affected," says Vic John, a member of the Raystown Striper Club and producer of the Tinney tournament. "What is great about the Juniata research project is that we will be able to see over a period of years exactly what kind of fish the stripers are eating."

In addition to laboratory research, Keeney points out that the project can easily be incorporated into the college's science curriculum. For example, the samples from the 2002 striper tournament were examined and identified by students in a vertebrate zoology course taught by John Matter, associate professor of biology. The class found that the stomach contesnts of the first sampled group was comprised mostly of the fish species shad and alewife.

In the next few years, Keeney, in collaboration with population biologist Vince Buonaccorsi, assistant professor of biology at Juniata, would like to use genetics techniques such as marking specific sequences of DNA to identify individual fish. As genetics technology becomes more affordable, Juniata science researchers can use genetic sequencing to examine the diversity of the striped bass population in the lake and the migration patterns of individual fish.

In addition, samples from the livers of the collected fish can be used in the college's environmental toxicology course to determine if pollutants or other contaminants are adversely affecting the fish population. Juniata may also expand the research project to other aspects of striped bass biology as the need arises.

"No one has really studied the striped bass population in the lake," Keeney says. "This project will allow our students to get some great experience and give students in our classes a lab project that is relevant to the Huntingdon area."

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.