Dr. Dunham Provides Benchmark Work on Catfish Hybridization

By: Charles Martin – The Catfish Journal

Auburn University fisheries professor Rex Dunham, true to his school’s land-grant mission, conducts research with the goal of helping catfish farmers and local communities sustain their way of life.

The goal is to serve the entire catfish farming industry and local communities,” said Dunham, who recently won Auburn’s Creative Research and Scholarship Award. “In addition to helping the farms in rural west Alabama, research helps the processing plants, which employ a lot of people, and there is an indirect impact on the local businesses. These includetractor parts suppliers, restaurants, any type of local shop. Hopefully, the impact of that research helps make that way of life sustainable.”

A primary aspect of Dunham’s career has been the hybridization of channel and blue catfish, considered a possible savior of the U.S. catfish aquaculture industry. Farm-raised catfish is the largest aquaculture industry in the country and has been a significant part of the economy of the Southeast for 30 years. But this industry faces high feed prices and marketing pressure from imported fish.

“The hybrid catfish, which has been Dr. Dunham’s signature area of work, has the potential to improve production efficiency to the point where U.S. farmers can continue to compete in today’s marketplace,” said Craig Tucker, director of the National Warm water Aquaculture Center and USDA Southern Regional Aquaculture Center, in nominating Dunham for the Auburn research award. “He has been directly or indirectly responsible for most of the technologies now used to produce this fish.”

Dunham says it is now feasible to produce Commercial quantities of hybrids, which have better growth, survival, disease resistance, feed conversion and tolerance of poor water quality – all leading to an inlproved harvest. His research is being applied to the cattlsh industry though Auburn’s Office of Technology Transfer, which is working with the company, Aetos, to provide hybrid fingerlings to catfish farmers.

“It is very gratifying that we finally reached this point,” he said. “With the tough economic times globally, this can greatly impact the catfish industry. The industry now has the technology to make hybrids.”

Dunham, a native of Peoria, ill., earned his bacbelor’s degree from the University of illinois in 1978. He then went to Auburn University in Alabama to work on his master’s degree, which he earned in 1979 followed by Ph.D. in 1981. He is recognized as a world leader in his field and has been awarded $14 million for research through 77 federal, state and University grmts during his time at Auburn. He has published 223 scientific articles, chapters and proceedings papers during his career.

He says a goal-oriented approach to research is vital to obtaining results that will impact specific fields and industries. “Some scientists change directions to follow the research money,” Dunham said. “If a goal or objective is worthwhile, then you should stay the coW’se, even if it is not easily fundable.”

Dunham’s major research achievements include:
- First researcher to demonstrate that selection works for the genetic improvement of channel catfish;
- First release of genetically improved fish in the United State. In total, responsible for four releases of genetically improved catfish;
- His research has led to the formation of the first four commercial genetics and breeding companies in the catfish industry; and
- First to produce a transgenic fish in the United States, and the fourth worldwide.

“He has a history of successful collaboration with university and government scientists, as well bayer cipro as farmers and technicians in the private sector,” Tucker said. “He gives freely of his time to work with other scientists, an important contribution that does not show up on his resume.”

Dunham sees the next major impact coming from transgenic sterilization, which involves the development of a genetic system that puts catfish reproduction control in the hands of the laboratoy culturist.

“We would genetically turn on or off a fish’s ability to reproduce,” Dunham said. “This would virtually eliminate all environmental impact that might occur if farm or laboratory fish were accidentally released into waterways. They would not reproduce in a natural environment, so they would not threaten native fish.”

Water Conservation Presentation

     The public is cordially invited to attend a presentation, Alternative sources of water… A better approach by Scott Kubiszyn, founder of Nature’s Tap, on Thursday, February 19 in the Comer Hall auditorium (2nd floor) on the AU campus. The event is sponsored by Save Our Saugahatchee (S.O.S) and the Saugahatchee Watershed Management Plan (SWaMP, a watershed project funded by ADEM and coordinated from the AU Fisheries Department). Refreshments will be served at 6:00 PM and the presentation will begin at 6:30 PM.
     Mr. Kubiszyn will discuss water conservation, how citizens can be part of the solution,
and how Nature’s Tap can assist them. While many parts of the country and the world have an approaching water crisis, we have shunned centuries-old and natural practices of collecting water and using it at the source. In the process we are damaging our watersheds, stealing from our water tables, consuming tremendous amounts of energy, and using unnecessary resources. Come hear about practical solutions clomid tablets and new technologies that are emerging to reuse greywater and capture rainwater and stormwater as alternative sources of water for our non-potable needs. Find out how a local school is planning a rainwater harvesting system that will act as a community demonstration site, while reducing the school’s dependence on potable water, and reducing runoff and nonpoint source pollution into the creek that runs right behind the school through a partnership involving the school, Nature’s Tap and SWaMP. For more information, please contact Eric Reutebuch (334-844-1163, reeutem@auburn.edu) or Wendy Seesock (seesowc@auburn.edu ).

Faa/Enthusiasm for Smith Lake Grows at Alabama Water Watch’s 12th Annual State of the Lake Address

     A group of over fifty Smith Lake residents gathered at Dodge City on the east side of Lewis Smith Lake in Cullman County for the12th Annual State of the Lake Address. Alabama Water Watch staffers have been invited by Smith Lake Environmental Preservation Committee President, Debbie Berry, since 1997 for the annual event.
     Bill Deutsch, AWW Program Director, began the State of the Lake Address with an update of AWW Program activities. He presented a list of stats on the Program, indicating that AWW has trained and certified about 4,900 citizen volunteer water monitors who have tested nearly 2,000 sites around the state and contributed 55,000 water quality records to the AWW statewide database. Bill briefly touched on half a dozen other projects that AWW is currently involved with, including Global Water Watch, the Tallapoosa Watershed Project, the Saugahatchee Watershed Management Plan, Exploring Alabama’s Living Streams Curriculum Training, an EPA project- Fostering Environmental Stewardship of the Gulf of Mexico, and a USGS-WRRI Livestock Producers Training. Bill said that he had just trained a group of Winston County producers the day before, who were eager to learn how to monitor on-farm bacteria levels in streams and ponds.
     Bill continued by identifying the five volunteer citizen groups that currently monitor water quality in the Smith Lake Watershed: Smith Lake Civic Association (SLCA), Camp McDowell (CM) and Winston County Smith Lake Advocacy (WCSLA) on the west side of the lake; and Cullman County SWCD (CULCO) and Smith Lake Environmental Preservation Committee (SLEPC) on the east side of the lake.

Citizen volunteer monitoring groups in the Smith Lake Watershed

     Bill tallied the cumulative decade-plus volunteer monitoring effort on the lake – nearly 1,400 water quality data records at 52 sites (currently, 24 are active sites). He commended the group for their ongoing commitment to environmental protection and preservation.
     Eric continued the program by presenting citizen monitor data trends on three tributary streams of the lake and three lake sites. All three of the streams had water quality problems at times. Crooked Creek had low dissolved oxygen levels, particularly during the 2007 drought. Blevins Creek (a tributary of Rock Creek) and Ryan Creek both had high E. coli concentrations at times. Bob Keefe, CULCO monitor extraordinaire (recipient of the AWW Monitor of the Year Award for most total data records submitted, 311 records in 2007) added that high E. coli counts coincided with significant rainfall events that flushed livestock and poultry waste into the streams. Eric indicated that Ryan Creek had been added to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management 2008 list of impaired streams, the 303(d) list, because of the presence of pathogens.
     Eric then shifted to lake sites, starting with SLCA site #5 above Smith Lake Dam. A seven-year trend in Secchi Disk visibility measured by SLCA monitors Charles Boyd and Mack Gross showed that lake clarity has increased in recent years to 4-5 meters (about 15 feet), indicative of a very clean lake. Citizen data from two other lake sites, one on the Sipsey Fork, monitored by WCSLA volunteers Larry Barkey and Burt Jones, and one on Simpson Creek Embayment, monitored by Debbie and Bob Berry, also indicated good water quality associated with a clean lake. Eric summarized water quality of the whole Smith Lake Watershed as ‘pretty darn clean’ in the lake, with problems (bacteria and low dissolved oxygen) in some of the tributary streams. 

Summary of water quality measured by volunteer monitors
in the Smith Lake Watershed

     Eric continued by touching on three watershed stewardship knowledge-to-action strategies that Smith Lake citizen groups have been engaged in, and new activities they might consider. All three strategies build on the decade-plus of volunteer water quality monitoring that the Smith Lake groups have been conducting across the watershed. Group activities in environmental education, the first stewardship strategy, have included SLEPC’s seasonal newsletter, WCSLA’s participation in the Winston County FAWN (Forestry Awareness Week Now) environmental education program, and Camp McDowell sponsoring teacher-training in the AWW Exploring Alabama’s Living Streams curriculum. Protection-Restoration activities, the second stewardship strategy, have included years of lake clean-ups by SLEPC, SLCA and recently by WCSLA, during which several million pounds of trash (mostly old Styrofoam floats from docks) have been removed from the lake.
      Eric encouraged the groups to continue pursuit of a Watershed Management Plan for protection/restoration of the lake, stressing that once a plan was drafted by local stakeholders, they could apply to ADEM for funding on-the-ground projects to improve lake water quality. Eric introduced the concept of a Watershed Management Authority (WMA) as an example of advocacy, the third stewardship strategy. He said that there has been a lot of interest and discussion about the development of WMAs in Alabama at meetings of the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Water Policy and Management. He stressed that the main benefits of formation of a local WMA are 1) more control of management of a watershed by local stakeholders, and 2) ability to manage on a watershed basis (instead of a town, city or county basis).
     In closing, Eric presented a Smith Lake map marked with suggestions for key new sample sites on tributaries and their embayments that newly-trained monitors might consider testing. He said that tributaries act like the ‘canary-in-the-coalmine’ since monitors will detect pollutants there before they are detectable downstream in the main lake. He commended the eight new monitors – Dyana McKee, Deniece Hand, Donna Dunn, Ronald Baniel, Debby Barrett, Stephen Morros, Susan Stark and Lynn Martin; and the five veteran monitors – Bob Berry, Deb Berry, Mark Butler, John Kulbitskas and Katherine Butler, who were certified/recertified at the Berry residence on Simpson Creek Embayment the day before (by Sergio Ruiz-Cordova and Eric). He stressed that it would be through their efforts that long-term water quality data trends might continue to reveal the answer to the question ‘Is my water quality getting better, or is it getting worse’.
     At the end of the presentation, Deb Berry, SLEPC President, thanked AWW for its continued support of citizen monitoring on Smith Lake, and presented Bill with a generous gift of a $500 to the AWW Program. On the road back to Auburn, the AWW staffers marveled over the renewed dedication of the citizen volunteers in the Smith Lake Watershed and their strong commitment to keeping their lake one of the cleanest in the Southeast. Click here to view the whole State of the Lake presentation…

SWaMP Reaches All Ages at Syrup Sopping Day in Loachapoka

     With over 20,000 visitors (according to the Opelika-Auburn News) coming to the Loachapoka Syrup Sopping Day on October 25th, it was a premier gathering for public outreach. For the third year in a row, SWaMP sponsored a booth, in coordination with the two local Alabama Water Watch (AWW) citizen water monitoring groups, Save Our Saugahatchee (SOS) and Friends of Chewacla Creek and Uphapee Watershed (CHEWUP), who also had booths. SWaMP and SOS shared two adjoining booths with overlapping displays. To Read More…

To See Pictures…

What Lies Below

     While most people are attracted to the Lake Martin area by its natural beauty and recreational opportunities, some are drawn from across the country and even from overseas to the Tallapoosa River watershed because it is among the most biologically diverse regions of the United States.
     In fact, Alabama is home to more different species of fish, crayfish, mussels and snails than any other state in the union. To Read More…

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