“The center will play a critical role in the economic growth and stability of our region and our state.”
–Senator Bruce Tarr, Senate Minority Leader
“We think this is going to be a win-win for both the university and the state,” says Steve Goodwin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences.
The marine station is the site of the university’s former seafood safety research center, which lay dormant after director Herbert Hultin’s passing in 2007. According to Senate Minority Leader, Bruce Tarr, whose district includes Gloucester, the center had always been a tremendous resource for the commercial fishing industry. “When Herb passed away, I became deeply concerned that the station would lose its vitality, and that it would become dormant and cease to be available as an academic research and applied science facility. We could not let this beacon of science and understanding be extinguished,” says Tarr.
Thanks to thoughtful brainstorming by Goodwin, political prodding by Senator Tarr and Gloucester City Council president Jackie Hardy, and with the support of Gloucester mayor Carolyn Kirk’s Administration and the DMF, the new marine science hub is off to a strong start.
Massachusetts is lucky to have Gloucester resident Molly Lutcavage and her Large Pelagics Research Center (LPRC) back home at Hodgkin’s Cove after her time at the University of New Hampshire. Lutcavage is continuing her internationally known research on the elusive Atlantic Bluefin Tuna—an important player in the underwater landscape off the coast of Gloucester and along the Atlantic coastline. The wide, torpedo-shaped fish averages about 550 pounds and 6.5 feet long, yet can reach up to 2,000 pounds and 13 feet long. The giant fish is worth $30 per pound and has a long-standing history with the maritime fishing village of Gloucester. Despite advances in modern technology, the warm-water Atlantic Bluefin remains an enigma in several ways. Its precise migration paths, spawning locations, food behaviors, age at maturity, and population size are all pieces of the Atlantic Bluefin puzzle.
“They’re incredibly challenging fish to study…if you’re a scientist who likes mysteries—it’s a good challenge,” says Lutcavage.
Lutcavage and the team are directly responding to those missing pieces in the existing scientific picture of the elusive tuna with current research. The staff is working to improve analysis of data recorded by electronic tagging, which could reveal more information about the Bluefin’s underwater path, and two projects are underway investigating Bluefin reproduction.
One of Lutcavage’s greatest strengths and a tradition of the Hodgkin’s Cove center is the ability to engage industry. Lutcavage is actively working with members and others in the field to assess the tuna’s abundance. With fishery-independent techniques like the “Tag a Tiny”program (which incentivizes the tag and release of juvenile Bluefin tuna), Lutcavage’s research is demonstrating that the species is not “on the brink of extinction”as previously thought. Lutcavage instead speculates that the Bluefin’s eerie disappearing and reappearing act has more to do with a widely variable migration path than population size—a scientific find that spared drastic quota cuts to fisheries.
“The diversity of the migration path far exceeds what anyone ever expected,” Lutcavage explains.
Lutcavage’s team is also wrapping up a project on electronic tagging of leatherback turtles. Seven years ago, collaboration between Lutcavage and an orthopedic surgeon yielded an orthopedic approach to tagging a turtle shell. She speaks excitedly about joint projects with the DMF and beyond, citing collaborative efforts as the best way to improve techniques. “Cooperation leads to better science,” Lutcavage says.
On the other side of the building, DMF staff are conducting experiments to investigate lobster reproduction. According to Michael Armstrong, DMF assistant director, findings suggest that existing practices for protecting egg-bearing female lobsters may be “skewing” reproduction, as the females are growing too large to mate with the smaller, unprotected males. The DMF team is also helping Lutcavage to tag turtles and may start helping to tag Bluefin.
Paul Fisette, former head of the Department of Ecological Conservation, says that while the center is new, its future is very promising. Senator Tarr adds “In moving toward more robust and productive research, my hope is that the center will build strong partnerships with other regional institutions and that it will become as well a place for people from all walks of life to learn about marine science.” Armstrong says that it is great working with the university team, describing it as a synergy of state resources. “It’s a gem of a site,” he adds.
Amanda Drane '12