Current Projects

  • Common Snook Aquaculture Research: Snook—prized by anglers for decades because of their acrobatic leaps on the end of a fishing line and their ability to evade capture more often than not—are one of the most important catches in Florida's saltwater recreational fishing industry. Their popularity, however, has a downside: fishing pressures have placed them on the state's list of "species of special concern" and resulted in the need for fishing restrictions and careful monitoring. Such considerations have led Mote to focus on growing snook (and other marine species) in captivity so they can be released to help replenish wild fish stocks. Our snook research also includes outreach to the wider community—including special fishing clinics for kids at Mote's Aquaculture Research Park in eastern Sarasota County.
    • Background: Mote began working closely with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in the 1980s to develop technology to culture common snook (Centropomis undecimalis). We initially focused on catching wild snook during the spawning season and then transferring them to tanks at our City Island facility. These fish were induced to spawn soon after capture and researchers collected the fertilized eggs. This approach led to limited larval survival and in 1996 we began collecting and fertilizing eggs from wild, naturally spawning fish in Sarasota Bay. This strategy was more successful and provided good quality eggs for larval growth and production studies for stock enhancement.
    • Wild Spawning Research: To collect snook eggs, a group of eight to 10 staff deploy a 400-foot-by-10-foot seine net from a boat. Netting sites are chosen based on knowledge of snook spawning behavior and the feasibility of deploying and collecting snook in the large seine net safely. In Southwest Florida, snook spawn from May through September, congregating near passes and inlets to bays following new and full moons. Although there are many sites that snook congregate for spawning, the currents or topography of a site may be too difficult to net. After the fish are collected in the seine, they are then separated by sex into floating pens, or hapas. Milt (sperm) is taken from the males and eggs are taken from the females and the fish are released alive and unharmed. Eggs and milt are then combined with seawater and the eggs are fertilized then carefully packed and transported to Mote where they were stocked in larval-rearing tanks and maintained for growth and other studies.
    • Captive Spawning Research: In 2006, Mote began developing year-round maturation and spawning techniques for snook held at Mote Aquaculture Research Park. Each 14,348-gallon (54.3 m3) snook broodstock tank and its associated filtration system is designed to hold up to 40 adult snook. In 2006, we successfully matured and spawned snook in captivity during the natural spawning season. In 2007 and 2008, we successfully matured and spawned snook two months before the natural spawning season—a first for this species held in captivity.  Broodstock research is focused on determining:
      • Optimal broodstock diet to improve egg quality
      • Environmental, behavioral and social cues to improve maturation and spawning in captivity
      • Spawning dynamics, effective breeding population and individual spawning performance
    • Larval Production Research: Snook larval and juvenile research at Mote is focused on improving survival in larval rearing and nursery culture. Snook start off their lives as very small larvae - approximately 0.06 inches (1.5 mm). This small size means that they require extremely small food. Larval snook are initially fed rotifers, a small zooplankton approximately 0.00039 inches (100 micrometers). Rotifers are fed algae for survival and to enhance their nutritional profile. Before they're fed to snook, we also add enrichments to increase their fatty acid content. Larval survival is not optimal on an initial rotifer diet and research is ongoing to identify alternative first feeds for larval snook. Other research is evaluating nutritional (probiotics), environmental and behavioral conditions required to increase larval survival.  
    • Juvenile Production Research: Juvenile, or nursery culture, research is focused on increasing the numbers of healthy juvenile snook produced for stock enhancement. Reducing cannibalism, determining optimal diet and reducing the incidence of deformities (such as lordosis) are key factors being studied. When snook metamorphose from larvae to nursery stage fish 25-30 days after hatching, they are highly cannibalistic. Snook are so aggressive that they will even try to swallow a fish of the same size. This aggression among juvenile snook makes it necessary to routinely grade the fish based on size - that is, keeping smaller and larger fish in separate tanks. However, even with frequent size grading, the snook's aggressive behavior makes it difficult to rear these animals in high densities. Research is ongoing to determine the culture conditions required to reduce aggression in nursery culture systems. The incidence of spinal deformities (lordosis or bent-back syndrome) in hatchery-reared snook varies from year to year. Lordosis is caused by a wide range of factors; however, nutritional deficiencies and environmental conditions are two of the most common causes. Recent Mote research revealed that modifications in current velocity within the tank can significantly reduce the occurrence of deformities in common snook fingerlings.
  • Pacific Snook Aquaculture Research: In 2013, we expanded our snook breeding research effort to develop maturation and spawning methods Pacific snook species.  Current efforts are focused determining the cues to induce maturation and spawning with black snook, Centropomus nigrescens, from the southwest coast of Costa Rica in the broodstock systems at MAP. The goal is to develop aquaculture methods to produce black snook for stock enhancement in Costa Rica.
  • Florida Pompano Aquaculture Research: Pompano are a popular food and sport fish with great potential as an aquaculture species. They are generally a hardy, fast-growing fish with a tolerance for low salinity water. Mote pompano research is focused on improving techniques to culture the Florida Pompano (Trachinotus carolinus).
    • Captive Spawning Research: Mote’s research team spawned wild broodstock for the first time in 2003 and produced almost 5,000 fingerlings. Some of these fish were grown to broodstock size, matured and spawned to produce F2 pompano. Research evaluated the effect of broodstock diet on egg and larval quality. The fatty acid profile of eggs produced by captive pompano fed fresh frozen food versus a formulated diet was compared to baseline profiles from wild pompano eggs. Results demonstrated the need for a better broodstock diet for pompano and the importance of ARA (arachodonic acid) in broodstock nutrition. In 2013, we initiated a project to study growth heritability in Florida pompano. Using the latest DNA fingerprinting technology, we are collaborating with the Florida Wildlife Research Institute to determine if genetic selection can be used as a tool to produce fast-growing pompano.
    • Larval Production Research: Larval rearing research is focused on improving larval survival with probiotics and on reducing larval rearing costs through early weaning from live food. The addition of probiotics to larval diets appears to promote growth and early maturation of the digestive system.  
    • Juvenile and Growout Production Research: Fingerling and growout research is focusing on improved feeding strategies to reduce production costs in recirculating tank systems, off-flavor removal strategies and marketing.
  • Marine Recirculating Systems Design and Evaluation: Recirculating systems that filter and reuse water are environmentally compatible, provide biosecurity to protect farmed animals from disease and ensure good water quality conditions for farmed fish.  In 2004, Mote designed and built a three-stage recirculating system for marine broodstock. We connected a primary filtration system (System A) to each broodstock tank, which included a solids filter, a moving bed biofilter, foam fractionator, ultraviolet light (UV) sterilizer and heater/chiller. Approximately 25% of the clean water from multiple broodstock tanks is circulated through a secondary filtration system (System B) each day. This system includes denitrification, foam fractionation, UV, ozone and carbon filtration. The waste from Systems A and B is filtered through a final filtration system (System C) that includes a solids filter, a moving bed biofilter, foam fractionator, denitrifier, UV, ozone and carbon filtration. Solids are dewatered and captured in a sand-drying bed or a geotube.  In 2005, three separate larval rearing systems were designed and constructed and linked to the final filtration system.  In 2007, Mote partnered with FWC and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution to produce marine fishes and invertebrates in recirculating systems to enhance Florida's recreational fisheries.  Efforts at Mote were directed toward designing and testing a zero discharge recirculating aquaculture system to grow out Phase III (25-80 gram) red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus), one of the most popular sportfish in Florida. A 7-tank growout production system was constructed and successfully tested and evaluated during two red drum production runs.  In 2010, Mote scientists redesigned the wastewater system associated with the marine fish growout production system into an integrated aquaculture system (IAS). The IAS incorporates wetland plants, as part of the water treatment system, and is producing market size Florida pompano. University of South Florida engineers evaluated the flow of nutrients in this system and Aquatic Plants of Florida produced wetland plants using high-nutrient wastewater in greenhouse raceways at MAP.
  • Marine Aquaponics Project: In 2014, Mote initiated a project to develop a small-scale marine aquaponics system based on the established technology for freshwater aquaponics in collaboration with the University of South Florida and Morningstar Fishermen. The goal is to provide expanded opportunities for local, community-based food production. A low-salinity, brackish water system will be used to produce red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) and edible sea vegetables (sea purselane and saltwort). Solid fish waste produced by the aquaponics system will be used to fertilize wetland plants for coastal restoration projects with  Aquatic Plants of Florida.

Other Mote Research Programs View All