Each month, The Skimmer will spotlight one of the many talented people on campus at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. For March, Ph.D. student Steve Garner wrote up something about himself based on the questions given to him. Enjoy!

I’m from Panama City, Florida, previously known as the spring break capital of the world, which is only about 5 hours East of Dauphin Island. I grew up fishing with my father and grandfather, two classic, hardcore tournament bass fishermen. I didn’t inherit their competitiveness, so, I was always more interested in just catching anything that lived in the water and taking it home to put in a jar or in my fish tank. As a consequence, I once drank from a mason jar containing a live newt that I mistook for my water glass at the dinner table.

Growing up we always had at least two aquaria in the house. One tank comprised my father or grandfather’s collection of prized tropical fishes, and the other comprised the hodge-podge of local fishes or reptiles I had collected that summer. Growing up in that kind of environment undoubtedly played a huge role in my continued interest in fishes.

I graduated from the University of West Florida in Pensacola in 2007 with a B.S. in Marine Biology, but during my last two summers at UWF I took an internship with the National Marine Fisheries Service Panama City laboratory under the guidance of Dr. Will Patterson. I was tasked primarily with collecting king mackerel otoliths for a UWF graduate student’s research and through that process I was exposed to both the academic and professional side of fisheries science. There was a ridiculous amount of information to learn and, fortunately for me, I was too naïve to know what I was getting myself into, so, I stuck with it.

I ended up here at DISL due in large part to the small world of fisheries science. My undergraduate mentor was a student of my second graduate advisor, who was a student of my first graduate advisor, and I am now a Ph.D. student of my undergraduate mentor.

I’m currently studying the effects of hook type (circle hooks versus traditional J style hooks) on different catch metrics and size selectivity of reef fishes in the northern Gulf of Mexico, particularly red snapper and gray triggerfish. Selectivity can be thought of as what size fish are in the water versus what size fish are caught, and fish sizes having a higher probability of capture are more selected by the fishing gear.

All fishing hooks may look pretty similar at first glance, but circle hooks function differently than traditional J hooks due to their circular shape and a hook point that’s oriented perpendicular to the shank. Circle hooks have been mandatory when targeting reef fishes in the Gulf of Mexico since 2008, but very little research has been conducted to assess the impact of the circle hook mandate on the reef fish fishery.

Fishermen have wide ranging views regarding circle hooks but the evidence suggests circle hooks don’t reduce fishing efficiency while significantly reducing the number of fish hooked in the gut or other sensitive locations. In fact, circle hooks may actually make some people better fishermen because the fish literally hook themselves.