It was a dream opportunity for Joshua Suzuki to spend his summer elbow-to-elbow with experienced aquaculture researchers at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI) where he conducted egg assessments and monitored the swim bladders of captive California yellowtail.
The rising University of California, San Diego senior knew that scoring an internship within the marine biology or aquaculture field would offer valuable hands-on experience and a likely leg up in the job world come graduation. He spent much of the previous school year scouring the internet looking for openings and cold calling organizations in the hopes of getting in the door. The hard work paid off when Suzuki was selected for a coveted Sea Grant-funded summer internship at HSWRI.
“Everything was brand-new for me. The only other actual marine biology experience I had was during my college courses, and a little bit last summer when I worked at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium,” says Suzuki.
Suzuki’s deep dive into the aquaculture world opened his eyes to commercially ready species like the California yellowtail and to the importance of increasing the consistency in fish quality among fingerlings — which is when the term “swim bladder” (which is used to maintain a fish’s buoyancy in the water) made its way into the fledgling biologist’s daily lexicon.
During his summer internship Suzuki learned that California yellowtail can manually inflate their swim bladders to adjust their buoyancy in the water column, as opposed to other fish species which diffuse gas through their tissue; and he studied how conditions like light intensity, duration and turbidity can impact larvae’s ability to reach the water’s surface.
“I was given a trial to conduct on California yellowtail,” he says. “In aquaculture, you want to make sure the fish are developing well, so this trial was designed to determine if yellowtail larvae needed access to the water surface or aeration to assist in swimbladder inflation.”
At first, Suzuki wasn’t confident about exactly what he should be looking for when using the microscope to monitor the still tiny yellowtail.
“My mentor, Kevin Stuart, a research scientist at HSWRI, helped me identify the swim bladder, and the first time I was able to identify it on my own it was just very exciting,” he says.
It’s lightbulb moments like this that can lead to a lifelong passion for a career and are just the spark HSWRI’s Chief Science Officer Danielle Haulsee is eager to see in young interns.
“We want to inspire an interest in the type of research that we’re doing,” says Haulsee. “I’m passionate about working with students and offering them opportunities to learn about different career paths that might be hidden from them, and to get students to care about our oceans and learn about the ways to leverage new technologies and ideas that can make meaningful change in our world.”
It’s clear that developing a better scientific understanding and hands-on technical experience among the next-generation workforce is essential for California and U.S. aquaculture development.
“The work Joshua was engaged with this past summer will help improve production technology for more efficient hatchery production for a species that is a great aquaculture candidate — one that can provide high-quality fish for the domestic consumer,” says Luke Gardner, an extension specialist with California Sea Grant and co-author of the project’s funding proposal.
“We need skilled experienced people in aquaculture and internships like Joshua's help prepare candidates for a career in this growing field,” he adds.