Dr. Steve Szedlmayer takes on the Gulf in the Research Vessel (RV) Mary Lou

Dr. Steve Szedlmayer takes on the Gulf in the Research Vessel (RV)
Mary Lou


Dr. Steve Szedlmayer is a rare faculty member at Auburn. He is one of very few who do not have an office on campus. Steve is a professor focusing his research on marine fish ecology. He also has an extension responsibility in marine fisheries working with fish identification, regulations and stock assessment. Steve is located at the Gulf Coast Research and Extension Center in Fairhope where he occupies an old house for his labs and offices. He also has a fish wet lab there and docking facilities on Dauphin Island for his 3 boats…two aged Coast Guard fire boats and the brand new 44-foot RV Mary Lou, named in honor of Mary Lou Smith who has kept all of us straight for so many years.

When Steve is asked to talk about his 15 years of red snapper work, his eyes get big, a smile comes over his face and he begins to talk about all the exciting things he and his students have discovered about snapper life history, their habitat requirements, their numbers and most of all their relationship to artificial reefs that dot Alabama waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

His research, centered around red snapper since 1990, is hard to support but, with the new RV Mary Lou, he and his students can really get the job done. He says that the RV Mary Lou “is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me!”

Steve’s work on red snapper began when almost nothing was known about their life history or population. One of Steve’s primary questions for many years has been the relationship of artificial reefs to red snapper abundance. His conclusions have evolved with his research and today Steve says with a lot of certainty that “Alabama has its own sustainable red snapper fishery because of its artificial reef system”. As a result he is now working on artificial reef quality to enhance fish populations.

Steve is also studying red snapper movement and behavior. With a reward of $50 to anglers for returning tagged snapper, natural mortality and fishing mortality are being estimated for the first time so that he can come up with an estimate of natural mortality of large fish greater than 600 mm or 6-8 pounds.

Recently Steve began to dig into the life history and ecology of trigger fish. He found what he refers to as “bizarre reproductive behavior”. The fish lay eggs in a nest and protect the eggs which, according to Steve, is highly unusual behavior for saltwater fish.

Steve says his work offers a lot of opportunities to graduate students who he recruits through national advertising. He says there is no shortage of quality students. Because his offices and labs are at the Gulf Coast Research and Extension Center in Fairhope and his boats are docked at Dauphin Island, his students must reside at the coast for a couple semesters. In addition to their work, students take courses at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. They also spend two semesters on the AU campus which works out great for the students because they can concentrate on their academics rather than work so much for Steve.

When asked about being an off-campus faculty member, Steve agreed that it isn’t easy but it does allow him to go about his work rather than get wrapped up in campus duties and politics. He adds that, “today’s internet has been a huge benefit. At least half the journals I use are instantly available when I need them”.

Steve summarizes his Auburn time by saying, “Auburn has been great to me. It’s the best department in the world. It’s our wonderful people—faculty and staff—and our world-wide network that makes it such a great place to work”.

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