SAERI lead novel fish ageing in the Caribbean

Dr Ed Butler

Following the ceremonious opening of the Clifford Leroy Brooks Fisheries and Marine Laboratory, held on the 23rd of May, much work has been on the go. Through the SAERI-led Darwin Plus funded project “Conserving Tropical Marine Ecosystems in TCI Through Science-Based Fisheries Management” with support through TCI Government capital funding, the laboratory has been fitted with cutting-edge equipment for fisheries age-and-growth and reproductive research, while staff have been trained in laboratory use and procedure. Now, and over the coming years, the laboratory will support key fisheries science and research studies on the most important fishery species, which will feed directly into critical stock assessments.

Project Officer Jessly Robinson and Fisheries Officer Destiny Missick prepare for a live demonstration during the opening ceremony of the Clifford Leroy Brooks Marine and Fisheries Laboratory
Over the weeks since the laboratories official opening, project manager Dr Ed Butler, project officer Jessly Robinson and the project team have been hard at work preparing hundreds of fish otoliths for ageing analysis. The work thus far has focused on the most important local finfish species; namely gray or mangrove snapper, lane snapper, yellowtail snapper, white grunt and white margate. Laboratory work is also focusing on less-well studied deeper water species, important in the emerging deep-drop fishing industry, including cardinal snapper, yellow-eye snapper and blackfin snapper.
The process of ageing fish otoliths includes setting these small bones into epoxy resin. The resin blocks are then sectioned on a specialized saw, which takes a thin slice of material from the core of the otolith. The sections which are produced are then carefully mounted onto microscope slides which can be viewed and photographed. Each species is slightly different and so the thickness and plane of the section needs to be carefully chosen for each. Similarly, when reading final otolith ages, it is important that accuracy and precision is prioritized to ensure reliable readings.

As the research progresses, the laboratory will develop core skills and research methods that are not only locally important, but critical for promoting improved fisheries and marine management throughout the Caribbean. Along with other research functions focused on emerging threats to the marine environment, including coral disease and sargassum influxes, the laboratory’s vision is to act as a regional center of excellence for fisheries and marine science. It is envisioned that the services and skills which have been developed through the DPLUS 153 project will become available to neighbouring territories and countries, and the lab will drive modern fisheries science regionally.
Image Left & Middle: Project staff have been hard at work in the lab, preparing otolith samples from TCI’s most important fishery species
Image right: The final product – here you can see a sectioned gray snapper otolith, as seen under the microscope
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