Madeira Beach, Florida - The Brandy docked at Madeira Beach Seafood Tuesday morning. Its cold hold was full of fish and scientific information.
"It was a successful trip," said USF fisheries expert Steve Murawski. "We caught a large number of fish and that was part of our plan."
The Brandy is one of three commercial fishing boats participating in a USF research project. The boats are catching fish in the Gulf from the Keys to central Louisiana.
Researchers on board the boats have a lot of work to do. They weigh, measure and examine each fish, inside and out. "Very long days, yes, long days," says researcher Christy Stephenson, who was so sore she winced when this reporter shook her hand.
The project comes after some fishermen, primarily from northwest Florida and Alabama, caught fish that looked sick. Photos show lesions and a condition called fin rot.
Those conditions can occur naturally, but scientists are now trying to find out if there's an abnormal number of diseased fish and if there are any ties to the oil spill.
"It's definitely needed," says Stephenson of the research. "It's going to provide useful background information."
Of the more than 500 fish that were harvested on this trip, only two showed signs of sickness. They had lesions, but experts say that number is not unexpected.
"Is there something unusual? We're trying to figure out what 'usual' is," says Murawski. "That's why we're studying such a broad area of the Gulf."
The Brandy fished waters from 60 to 600 feet and hauled in about 20 different species of fish, so the sampling was diverse. The healthy fish collected for the study will be donated to charity.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is funding this $400,000 project. Captain Randy Lauser says it's nice to get paid to fish, but he was also gratified to take part in such important research.
"Because that's our livelihood, with our ecosystem and the fish; you got to know what's going on. It's better to know than not to know," Lauser said.
Scientists expect to release the results of their study sometime in September.