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TPWD News,, 512-389-8030

July 23, 2009

Student Interns Get Feet Wet in World of Texas Coastal Fisheries

AUSTIN, Texas — For the past month and a half, Cynthia Kelly wakes up each morning to a different variety of fish to study or a new slice of coastal habitat near Corpus Christi to explore. She’s one of four student interns working this summer with the Coastal Fisheries Division of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department up and down the Texas coast.

Kelly is a summer intern with the Aransas Bay Ecosystem Team at the Rockport Marine Lab. Kelly gains hands-on experience in fisheries biology by joining teams of researchers on their daily missions.  Her position and the other three interns are entirely funded by the Coastal Conservation Association, a nonprofit group of conservation-minded anglers.

Since she began work May 18, she has performed a laundry list of activities, including gill net sampling, bay trawls and bag seines.

"I love looking at all the different species of fish, looking at them up close and learning about them," Kelly, 35, said.

Kelly graduated with a biology degree from Texas A&M University — Corpus Christi last fall and is pursuing a master’s in biology in the fall from her alma mater.  Originally from El Paso, Kelly was used to dealing with "more furry animals" until she arrived in Corpus Christi with her husband, a fishing guide, and 8-year-old son.

The Coastal Conservation Association began funding the internship program, which costs about $5,500 per student per year, in 2002 after some conversations between Kyle Spiller, the Upper Laguna Madre ecosystem leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Ed Hegen, Coastal Fisheries Regional Director for the Lower Coast.  Spiller then presented the idea to Dr. David McKee, a biology professor at Texas A&M — Corpus Christi and a CCA board member for the Corpus Christi Chapter.  Both the local chapter and state CCA board were enthusiastic about the idea, Spiller said.

"We thought that maybe if they were interested in supporting a student or providing an internship, it would be a winning situation for everyone involved," Spiller said.  "It would also be a tremendous help for students who wanted to make a career out of fisheries management but didn’t have any practical experience."

Other interns include Brian Witherell who works for the Coastal Fisheries Division as a member of the Corpus Christi Bay Ecosystem Team in Rockport, Danny Pritchard, who works in the Upper Laguna Madre and Abigail Lashbrook, who works in the Lower Laguna Madre.

"This internship was intended to give them practical experience that they will enjoy and perhaps make them more competitive for positions that open up with Parks and Wildlife or other similar agencies," Spiller said.

Elani Morgan interned with TPWD in 2007 and has now gone on to a career in fisheries science. She can remember the rigorous daily schedule she had as an intern.

"Geez, what didn’t we do that summer?"  Morgan said.  "I mended gill nets and took fish out of nets and did some bay trawls, bag seines.  I’ll say this — I know fish better than a lot of people my age."

Morgan, 23, received her bachelors of science in biology last May from TAMU-CC. She’s now working on her M.S. in biology at the same school. During the year she is an organic chemistry teaching assistant, but this summer she’s working at the Harte Research Institute in Corpus Christi as a laboratory technician.

"It’s funny that the stuff I analyze now as a lab tech is for Texas Parks and Wildlife," she said. "I’d like to go back to TPWD after I graduate in May.  I love Corpus, and I want to work somewhere that excites me everyday."

She said she has the upper hand in the classroom, since she’s able to help younger students identify fish species and conduct basic research assistant work like patching nets and conduct bag seines.

"That summer taught me a lot," she said. "It would be nice to do that stuff again. To be able to work outside and be out on the water would be great."

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TH 2009-07-23

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