Virginia Tech figured prominently among award winners lauded at the joint annual meeting of the Virginia, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia chapters of the American Fisheries Society in February.

The Virginia chapter honored Brian Watson, who received his master’s degree in fisheries sciences from Virginia Tech in 1998, with the professional scientist award. Three of the chapter’s four scholarships were presented to Virginia Tech students.

“As president of the Virginia chapter, I am proud and happy that we are able to recognize outstanding professionals, such as Brian Watson, for this prestigious award,” said Donald Orth, the Thomas Jones Professor of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.

“I am also very impressed with the quality of student applicants we received this year,” he continued. “These students will face enormous novel challenges to continue to protect, conserve, and develop our fish and aquatic living resources in a very different future.”

Watson, recipient of the Eugene W. Surber Professional Fisheries Scientist Award, serves as the aquatic invertebrate project leader for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Stationed in Forest, he coordinates research and management of nongame aquatic invertebrate resources statewide, including threatened and endangered freshwater mussels and crayfish.

Watson was heavily involved in establishing the state’s mussel propagation facility at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery in Charles City. It is the only Virginia facility raising freshwater mussels for re-introduction into Virginia rivers draining into the Atlantic Ocean. He also chairs the Atlantic Slope Mussel Restoration Group, an interagency organization dedicated to the conservation, management, and restoration of rare freshwater mussels in the Atlantic Slope of Virginia.

As a nationally recognized expert on aquatic invertebrates, Watson recently traveled to China at the invitation of the Chinese government to provide his expertise on mussel conservation.

Michael Moore of Columbia, Missouri, a master’s degree student in fish conservation, received the Ross Scholarship Award. He is completing thesis research on the Clinch Dace, a recently discovered minnow existing only in tributaries of the upper Clinch River watershed in Virginia’s Russell and Tazewell counties. Moore is endeavoring to extract Clinch Dace DNA samples from stream water, a potentially low-cost, noninvasive way to sample for fish species.

Moore recently presented his work at American Fisheries Society’s Southern Division meeting and is co-author of two previously published papers on native crayfish. He teaches ichthyology lab at Virginia Tech and is president of the Virginia Tech Chapter of the American Fisheries Society.

“I am honored to accept this scholarship award and will use it as I attempt to develop a tool for conserving this rare species,” Moore said.

Erica Ascani of Ironton, Pennsylvania, a junior majoring in fish conservation, won the Jenkins Scholarship. She spent last summer studying salmon spawning, rearing, and harvesting on an island in Alaskan’s Prince William Sound and has helped to collect fish and habitat data in Southwest Virginia streams. She is interested in working with international fisheries and is conducting an independent study analyzing fish scales to determine growth rates of the Arapaima, a major food fish in Brazil.

“This scholarship will help me to prepare for a career in fisheries research, either with a university or an international institution,” Ascani said.

Master’s degree student Amanda Hyman of Appleton, Wisconsin, received an honorable mention scholarship award. Hyman is currently working on Virginia’s stocked trout program and conducts angler-creel surveys to help evaluate the program through the eyes of anglers.

The Virginia Tech Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, which assisted in program planning for the annual meeting, organizes outreach and educational activities for local schools and holds the Mudbass Classic fishing tournament on campus each spring. Members also edit the newsletter and maintain a website for the Southern Division of the American Fisheries Society. The society is the world’s oldest and largest organization promoting the scientific management of North American aquatic resources.

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