Students reeled in to help professor with Centennial Lake study

Mickey Bagnato holding a largemouth bass he caught in Centenial Lake. He is catching fish to help collect data for Dr. Kathleen Browne’s study of the fish population in the lake.
Mickey Bagnato holding a largemouth bass he caught in Centenial Lake. He is catching fish to help collect data for Dr. Kathleen Browne’s study of the fish population in the lake.

By Emily Klingman

Anyone notice some students fishing, despite the explicit signs saying not to? Don’t worry — they’re allowed to. Working alongside Kathleen Browne, professor of geological, environmental and marine sciences, a group of students have been helping her study Centennial Lake’s ecosystem.

One student, senior political science major Mickey Bagnato, became involved in the project when he got caught fishing in the lake. It was after the encounter that Bagnato reached out to Browne and expressed interest in helping out.

“There’s a woman who walks around campus and she kind of gave me a hard time,” Bagnato said. “I wasn’t supposed to be fishing, which was kind of frustrating. I like fishing, and I could see fish in the water. I reached out to Dr. Browne; I emailed her and said, ‘Hey, can I fish? I’ll collect data if you want, and we’ll come up with something.’”

Browne was excited about Bagnato’s interest in the project, saying that she had been looking for ways to get students involved in collecting data.

“He said there was an improvement in the number of fish, the size of fish — which is a great observation,” said Browne. “Two years ago, we put some fish in because we had enough data to suggest the fish population was struggling. And we’ve been trying to figure out a way to monitor and collect data periodically to figure out how it’s doing.”

Bagnato’s interest in fishing stems from his enjoyment of spending time outdoors and the triumphant feeling of finally hooking a fish.

“I like to fish alone; it’s nice and quiet,” he said. “I like trying to outsmart the fish. They’re smarter than you’d think. And it’s just a thrill catching a fish — catching a big fish. It’s indescribable really.”

Browne said once the two of them discussed the idea, Bagnato was anxious and excited to get started on the project and do something more than his recreational fishing. He started at the end of August, and so far, he’s caught about a dozen fish. He said he hasn’t had too much trouble with the scientific aspects of the project, either.

“Right now, I haven’t done anything too difficult; we’re just taking measurements, collecting data and stuff, which is pretty straightforward,” he said. “I’ve been collecting scales; we do have plans to examine the scales under a microscope to age the fish. We’ve looked at them already but haven’t gotten much information off that yet. And then actually writing up all my information in a scientific way — how a science report would be.”

Browne explained, once Bagnato is able to hook a fish, he measures the length and weight and scrapes a scale from each fish. He provides the data to her and then from there they intend to age the fish accordingly.

“It’s not the most accurate way to age a fish, but it’s not a bad way and it’s the most humane,” explained Browne. “Besides a scale, the best way to do it is to take a bone out from the head, so that would be the end of the fish.”

To prevent any future run-ins with passersby and security that might question Bagnato and other students fishing around the lake, Browne has worked with a university attorney to ensure everything is properly arranged and security is informed.

“They have the records and forms we’ve arranged for and the student’s name, so when security might bump into them, they’ll at least have their name on a list if they don’t already know the student and they’re allowed to fish,” she said.

At the time of the last lake restocking in 2014, there had been few numbers of the largemouth bass, which are the top predators in the lake. In addition, what bass there had been were small in size for their age. There were also little numbers of the fish that they eat, the bluegills. The idea was to restock both, so the bass would be back to a healthy population and the bluegills would be back at a continuously reproducing population. One of the questions Browne wants answered about the bluegills now; “Is that population surviving and sustaining itself?” As for the bass; “Is that population a reasonable number? And are the fish a better size given their age?”

“Unless we drown the lake and count everything, we won’t know for sure,” said Browne. “But [it’s] an easy way to engage the community members who want to fish anyway and to collect data that ensures a sort of humane treatment of the fish. So if they’re fishing, they fish for a reason; collect data and we do the best we can to figure out how the population is doing.”

In addition to maintaining the lake’s ecosystem, both Bagnato and Browne want this study to dispel rumors the community may have about the lake’s condition.

“I think by doing this I can really monitor what’s going on and say, ‘Hey, where’d all the fish go? What’s going on?’” Bagnato said. “I just love fishing, and making sure there’s a healthy fish population is in my best interest. Whatever I can do to make the fishing better, I’m going to jump on it. Plus, I get to fish.”

“I’ve heard some people say, ‘It’s a shame we can’t fish anymore,’” said Browne. “For those that are unhappy about that, just know we’re doing that to try and be protective and discover the status of the fish populations. We are doing what we can to keep that lake a reasonably balanced ecosystem and relatively healthy.”


Originally printed in the 10/05/16 edition.

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