As the water warms this spring, our collecting opportunities expand. I generally have a mental list of species we would like to have here, but there are always fishes we need each year as they outgrow their exhibits and are transitioned to larger ones (e.g. striped bass, flounder). Some species are popular not only among guests and staff, but other facilities often inquire about for trade, such as lookdowns and spadefish. Fortunately, I have many locations that I have catalogued over my many years in VA through personal experience, research/professional (VIMS) or through the museum.
Juvenile Spadefish, a popular catch each summer
Collecting (with requisite permits of course) is one of the more pleasurable parts of this type of work. Although I never truly enjoy taking an animal out of its element, I use that sentiment to ensure a personal and professional quality of care for the animals we do keep. I DO NOT keep animals I feel are unsuitable for captivity, doubt we can handle, or care for adequately. And there are many species I would like to have, even have had, but do not fit that requirement (octopus). Back to the pleasurable part; it is hard to beat late spring through fall in VA. July and August can be brutal at times, but then again we are in the water when collecting.
Most commonly we use a 100 x 6 foot beach seine that I acquired from my old bosses at VIMS originally used for the Juvenile Bluefish Survey. It needs repair after just about every trip anymore but it is very effective. Not only is the weather and scenery a huge highlight of collecting trips but it is also the thought of getting interesting fishes that we rarely see or do not currently display. Every now and then there are a few surprises - bluntnose ray pups (13 total), banded drum, leatherjack, moonfish - and large scale changes in species by year (2010 was an excellent spotted sea trout/bluefish year, 2009 was a striped bass/flounder year).
Bluntnose Ray pup caught at Cape Charles
So this year we can look forward to the unexpected and we certainly expect to enjoy it.