You are viewing an archived issue. Vol. 2 Issue 3 March 2010 Looking for the current issue?
CCU Atheneum: Erin Burge, professor of marine science at CCU, shows off a giant lobster caught offshore near the Cape Fear River. The crustacean fed a family of four for two meals, Burge says.
Erin Burge, professor of marine science at CCU, shows off a giant lobster caught offshore near the Cape Fear River. The crustacean fed a family of four for two meals, Burge says.

No-kill method of counting fish could be a better way

by Mona Prufer
Bookmark and Share

Any fisherman will tell you – if you want to find fish, go to where the fish are. Erin Burge, assistant professor of marine science at Coastal Carolina University, did just that – with underwater cameras deployed at ledges 50 miles off Cape Fear on the North Carolina coast.

Working with Jim Atak of In Sea State Inc. in Oak Island, N.C., and Craig Andrews of Over & Under Adventures in Southport, N.C., Burge and a group of experienced divers (including three CCU marine science students) have been video “capturing” and counting fish to provide independent data for the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC).

Funded by a N.C. Sea Grant, the trio put together a nine-minute video that shows how underwater cameras deployed at limestone ledges are a new way of counting fish that supplements the old way. The more traditional way of counting involves fishermen catching and killing the fish, measuring and weighing them.

The video method of counting is more efficient, the scientists say, more humane and doesn’t deplete the fish population.Burge, whose research interests are in molecular biology and fisheries ecology, will present the video at a film festival during the 39th Benthic Ecology Meeting at UNCW March 10 to 13.

Three marine science students will attend the conference with him, including Ben Binder, who will present a poster on using video to count groupers, and Amanda Wood and Zach Hart, who will co-present a poster on the diverse fish community seen using video observation. Lauren Bohrer, a recent CCU marine science honor graduate and currently a master’ student at UNCW, is also an author on the grouper work.

As of Jan. 1, 2010, the SAFMC has shut down commercial and recreational fishing until April 1 for grouper and June 1 for red snapper, a controversial move that has raised the ire of regional fishermen. The reason for the ban is to protect the species during their main spawning seasons and because of historical overfishing for these species.

“The original project focused on grouper, but then we decided to expand it to include the whole fish community and see what’s available down there,” says Burge. “We targeted locations that attracted groupers in order to observe their populations. We think that this new method is a way forward and that the scientific dataprovided to the fisheries is very accurate.”

The Sea Grant project started in the winter of 2007-2008, and 57 dives were made from June 2008 through January 2009, Burge says. There was originally about 40 hours of raw video footage that had to be edited into the end result – a nine-minute video that shows groupers, porgy, grey triggerfish, hogfish, sand tiger sharks and even the exotic lion fish that has now migrated up the eastern coastline.The $50,000 project involved two boats, underwater video equipment and lots of dives, including CCU students Binder, Mark Nevin and Brandon Toms.

The dives are usually around 85 feet deep but sometimes as deep as 100 to 110 feet “so they can’t be inexperienced divers,” says Burge.The marine science professor also dives for recreation when he’s not working in the ocean, the lab or the classroom. He plans to accompany 12 CCU students to Jamaica for study abroad in May where they will make 30 to 40 dives studying coral reef ecology.

From an early age, Burge knew that fish and the ocean would be his future. “When I was about five, my room was decorated with the shark posters, the fish posters, sea shells in my room, and that was before I’d even seen the ocean,” he says. His office in the Coastal Smith Science Center looks pretty much like his boyhood room must have with fish posters, shark posters and seashells, only more detailed and advanced.

Burge is married to Courtney Burge, who is a Web designer who works with clients locally and nationally. They have a son, 19-month-old Wyatt, and another one on the way whom they call “New Hotness.” Courtney’s due date is in mid-June. “I’ll be in Jamaica with students in May,” says Burge. “We are just hoping that New Hotness doesn’t decide to put in an early appearance.”

Article Photos