Kevin Lee Stierhoff, a master's student in marine biology- biochemistry in the University of Delaware Graduate College of Marine Studies (CMS), is the recipient of the third annual scholarship from the Delaware Mobile Surf Fishermen. A native of Owings Mills, Maryland, Stierhoff will use the $1,000 scholarship to support his thesis research on the effects of low oxygen levels on young summer and winter flounder.
"I am very excited about receiving the scholarship," Stierhoff says. "The funds will help me build a computer-controlled apparatus to examine how various concentrations of dissolved oxygen affect the feeding and growth rates of summer and winter flounder." Under the guidance of Dr. Timothy Targett, professor of marine biology-biochemistry, Stierhoff will test young fish at oxygen concentrations and temperatures that are representative of both the Delaware Bay and Delaware's Inland Bays.
Low levels of dissolved oxygen, or hypoxia, can occur in parts of the Delaware Bay and in the Inland Bays, especially during the summer months. As agricultural runoff and sewage is discharged into the bays, the concentration of nutrients in the water is increased.
The increased concentration of nutrients encourages plant and algal growth and can result in what is called an "algal bloom." Algal blooms often lead to depleted levels of oxygen in the water. Eventually, the plants and animals that live in the water cannot survive these low oxygen levels.
"Delaware's coastal waters are important nursery grounds for many commercially and recreationally valuable fish," reports Stierhoff. "Fish inhabit these nursery grounds during their first year when optimal feeding and growth are critical for survival. The quality of nursery grounds for young fish is believed to play an important role in determining the size of adult populations."
Stierhoff hopes that the results of his experiments will explain how juvenile fishes are impacted by exposure to various degrees of hypoxia at summer temperatures. This information will, in turn, assist management agencies in the protection of nursery grounds that are vital to maintaining the population and health of a flounder fishery.
Recently, the Delaware Mobile Surf Fishermen generously solidified their support by approving funding to guarantee the scholarship as an annual award to a qualified student in the Graduate College of Marine Studies. "The research that is supported by this award will contribute to the protection and enhancement of the health of the Delaware Bay," says Dr. Ann Hastings, chair of the fishing group's Subcommittee on Scholarships. "Continued research will ensure that the abundance of marine animals and plants will continue to thrive, providing beauty and pleasure for us to enjoy now and in the future."