MARISSA MCMAHAN prepares for a dive earlier this year while doing a survey of black sea bass. A Georgetown native and former lobsterwoman, McMahan has launched a crowdfunding campaign to continue studying the emergence of black sea bass in the Gulf of Maine.

MARISSA MCMAHAN prepares for a dive earlier this year while doing a survey of black sea bass. A Georgetown native and former lobsterwoman, McMahan has launched a crowdfunding campaign to continue studying the emergence of black sea bass in the Gulf of Maine.

GEORGETOWN

Field research isn’t all water play for Georgetown marine biologist Marissa McMahan. After a busy summer of dives off coastal New England, McMahan is back in the lab and facing that most onerous of tasks — fundraising.

A GROUPER-TYPE FISH with an average adult weight of 1.5 pounds traditionally found between Cape Cod and the Gulf of Mexico, sea bass are a very lucrative fishery in states where they are abundant.

A GROUPER-TYPE FISH with an average adult weight of 1.5 pounds traditionally found between Cape Cod and the Gulf of Mexico, sea bass are a very lucrative fishery in states where they are abundant.

This time, however, fundraising may not require tedious hours of filing grant applications. McMahan is using crowdfunding platform Experiment to reach a goal of $6,000 in one month to help fund her research as she works toward a doctorate degree in marine and environmental sciences at Northeastern University.

“It is not a method I had previously considered to fund research,” said McMahan. “Federal grants are getting harder and harder to come by, and it’s so competitive since funding seems to be drying up.”

A Georgetown native and former lobsterwoman, McMahan is studying the emergence of black sea bass in the Gulf of Maine. Traditionally a southern species, warming ocean temperatures have expanded the fish’s range of habitation and McMahan is working to determine if the opportunistic feeder has added juvenile lobster to their diet.

“I started seeing black sea bass when I was working with my father on his lobster boat in 2012,” said McMahan. “There was a warm water anomaly that year and we started seeing a lot of species that you don’t typically find in the Gulf of Maine.

“The sea bass were a warning sign,” said McMahan. “My hope is that this research can be used as a framework to study other emergent species shifting northward due to warming water temperatures.”

Over the summer, McMahan conducted a series of dives off the coast of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine to determine the distribution and abundance of black sea bass in the Gulf of Maine and regions to the south.

Currently, McMahan is processing more than 200 fish samples collected for a dietary study. Anecdotal evidence has pointed to sea bass incorporating juvenile lobster, along with crabs and shrimp, into their diet, said McMahan, but the study will serve to delineate the composition of the fishes’ diet.

“Lobstermen use (sea bass) as bait when they catch them in their traps,” said McMahan, “and they are saying when they cut them open they are finding juvenile lobsters in their stomachs.”

In the spring, McMahan plans to send out a survey to area lobstermen to determine how sea bass are viewed by those who earn a living in Maine’s most lucrative fishery: Are they viewed as a threat, or a potential new market?

A grouper-type fish with an average adult weight of 1.5 pounds traditionally found between Cape Cod and the Gulf of Mexico, sea bass are a very lucrative fishery in states where they are abundant.

“The per unit price of sea bass is two- to three-times as much as the price of lobster, so they’re worth quite a bit more,” said McMahan. “It’s possible they could open up a new market and it could relieve some pressure on fishermen who one have one fishery that they depend on.”

In June, McMahan received a grant from the Graduate Women in Science Fellowship Program, but the grant was limited to the cost of supplies and materials to conduct her research, she said.

Experiment — a crowdfunding platform developed by scientists in California for the purpose of supporting research — reached out to McMahan, she said, urging her to try funding her research using their platform.

“You have to put together a project outline and submit it for review, and a board of scientists check that it is legitimate,” said McMahan. “They said their most successful campaigns have been ones with matching grants, so I thought ‘Why not? I’ll give it a shot.’”

Much to her surprise — it’s working.

Launched on Oct. 31, McMahan’s campaign, “New Fish on the Block: ecological implications of black sea bass in the Gulf of Maine” had already been funded to nearly 40 percent of its goal in less than one week.

“It’s been great to be able to share research with people,” said McMahan, who noted she has received overwhelming local support for her research since she was featured in The Times Record in an August article.

“A lot of fishermen I’ve never contacted before have reached out to me to give me information about where they’re seeing sea bass and how many they’re seeing,” said McMahan. “It has really expanded out fairly rapidly and it does seem to generate interest as it impacts people’s daily lives.”

The Experiment website facilitates continued contact between researchers and project donors, said McMahan, who can view lab notes, videos and other materials to keep current on progress made.

For more information about McMahan’s black sea bass research or to make a donation, visit www.experiment.com/projects/newfish on-the-block-ecologicalimplications of-black-seabass in-the-gulf-of-maine.


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