Written by Jamie Roberts and Rebecca Brown

This past year certainly saw its share of ups and downs, and yet, plenty of great fisheries science and management was achieved throughout the Peach State, which we wanted to highlight through our 2021 virtual annual meeting.  Our meeting theme, “Celebrating Georgia’s Aquatic Diversity,” provided an opportunity to highlight and celebrate not only our richly diverse fishes and aquatic resources but also the resilience of our fisheries biologists, technicians, teachers, students, researchers, and support staff, and the all-important relationships that knit our profession and our Chapter and Society together.

As always, our annual meeting would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of a number of chapter officers, committee chairs and members, and other volunteers, as well as the generosity of our financial sponsors Georgia Power, Georgia Southern University, Lake Specialist, and the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. Although things looked and felt a bit different than what we are accustomed to, the Zoom format also had some silver linings worth noting.  For one thing, the format made our meeting accessible to out-of-state and even international attendees and presenters. Because of the reduced meetings costs, we were able to provide free registration to students, which we hoped would create some great learning opportunities and also help reach and grow future Chapter members.  Despite the virtual format, we managed to keep traditional meeting favorites alive, including the awards ceremony, Fellowship of Christian Conservationists meeting, and fundraising events, in addition to some new events such as a keynote speaker, an online trivia contest, and a lunch-and-learn educational session.

The 2021 virtual meeting was attended by around 180 fisheries professionals and students from the United States, Canada, Australia, and Sri Lanka.  The program included 33 oral presentations, 15 of which were by students, as well as 4 poster presentations.  We featured a symposium on Georgia’s Aquatic Connectivity, led by Dr. Jay Shelton of UGA.  Our diversity of presentations included the use of robotics to model fish detection ranges at coastal reefs, using palmyra fruit pulp to improve fish feed, identification of organic contaminants in thresher sharks, an update on the aquatic biodiversity of the Upper Coosa, information about the new red drum high-reward tagging study in coastal Georgia, an habitat selection in darters and freshwater mussels.  The complete program with abstracts can be found on our Chapter’s website: https://gaafs.org/2021-annual-meeting/

Piper Rackley is an undergraduate biology student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is an intern working with Dr. Kady Lyons, a marine biologist at the Georgia Aquarium. Piper was awarded the Georgia AFS 2021 Best Poster Presentation: Organic contaminants in two species of thresher sharks

We are grateful to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for allowing our use of their guest house at the Richmond Hill Fish Hatchery as a meeting command center.  Our officers and program team managed the meeting from this location.  The meeting kicked off with an informative and highly entertaining keynote presentation by Dr. Brett Albanese, Program Manager for Wildlife Conservation in the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.  Additional new events included a “happy-hour style” online team trivia contest and a lunch-and-learn educational workshop facilitated by Dr. Cecil Jennings, Chapter member and AFS Second Vice President.  Dr. Jennings’ live session, “You, your boat, and its trailer…Murphy was an optimist” was well attended and several of our participants also had a chance to share some of their experiences.  We expect to continue to use these three new events as part of our future annual meetings.

2021 Virtual Meeting Command Center Team: (from left to right) Chapter President Jamie Roberts, Chapter Co-Chair Arrangements Committee Brent Hess, Chapter Executive Secretary-Treasurer Rebecca Brown, Fundraising Chair Jackson Sibley, Chapter Recording Secretary-Treasurer Dawn Franco, and Co-Chair Arrangements Committee Kevin Cavallaro

Some of our Chapter’s 2020 highlights include adding active Twitter and Instagram accounts to our information-dissemination campaign, collaborative efforts between our Chapter and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to create aquatic education outreach posters and an Aquatic Nuisance Species workbook (https://gaafs.org/education-materials/), and updating our website to include an “Education” section and a “Fish Careers” section.  The “Education” (https://gaafs.org/education/) section includes information about workshops, education materials for K – college educators, outreach events, and a map of colleges and technical schools in Georgia that offer opportunities for students to pursue an education which will help them earn a job related to fisheries science.  The “Fish Careers” (https://gaafs.org/fish-careers/) section includes information about different careers associated with fisheries and strategies to help improve your candidacy when applying for a fisheries job.  Both of these new additions to the website can better inform high school and undergraduate students about college Fisheries programs and people across the state, and career opportunities in the field.

COVID-19 brought about many new challenges including how we could best recognize those who have contributed so much to the advancement of fisheries science and being champions of aquatic conservation.  We had a live awards ceremony which we then created a video and posted it to our website:  https://youtu.be/MMmSwzQmKPg

Georgia chapter afs professional awards

Certificate of Appreciation

  • Richmond Hill Fish Hatchery

Career Contribution Award

  • Bill Davin
  • Rusty Garrison
  • Dominic Guadagnoli
  • Roger Harrell
  • Pat Markey
  • Paul Jones
  • Donna Wilson

Fisheries Professional of the Year                                                                           

  • Jason Mitchell (winner)
  • Tony Beck (finalist)
  • Greg Abercrombie (finalist)

AFS Certificate of Appreciation

  • Jamie Roberts, GA AFS 2020 Chapter President

Distinguished Service Award

  • Jackson Sibley
  • Chalisa Fabillar

Unsung Hero Award

  • Dylan Severens
  • Cindy Smith
  • Amy Smith

Chapter President Award

  • Rebecca Brown

Fisheries Conservationist of the Year

  • Jim Page (Winner)
  • Katie Owens (finalist)

Roger Harrell (left) awarded Career Contribution Award nominated by Chris Harper (right)

Jason Mitchell, 2021 Fisheries Professional of the Year

Jim Page, 2021 Fisheries Conservationist of the Year

The Georgia Chapter also recognized students for outstanding research and presentations at the virtual annual meeting.  All of the students did a great job with their presentations.

Student Oral Presentation Awards

First Place: Brendan Dula (UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources) Effects of Hurricane Michael on annual recruitment, mortality, and behavior of Gulf Sturgeon in the Apalachicola River, Florida

Second Place: Frank McQuarrie (UGA College of Engineering) Acoustic covers without the guitars: Using robots to model fish detection range at coastal reefs

Third Place: Lauren Moniz (Georgia Southern Department of Biology) Lipid metabolites as energy stores in stingrays

student best poster presentation award

Piper Rackley (Georgia Institute of Technology, intern with Kady Lyons at GA Aquarium) Organic contaminants in two species of thresher sharks

student scholarships

Ronnie J. Gilbert Scholarship: Brendan Dula (UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources)

Georgia Chapter AFS Scholarship: Bryson Hilburn (UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources)

georgia chapter afs annnual fundraiser

Over the past several years our fundraising chair, Jackson Sibley, has done an excellent job of recruiting donations for our annual fundraiser that we are able to support aquatic education outreach events, donate money to help support the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Go Fish Education Center classroom, and provide additional funding for aquatic restoration projects around Georgia.  Fortunately, COVID-19 did not have a major negative impact on our fundraising efforts.  Although a few of our traditional donors were unable to contribute this year, we added several new ones, and thanks to our fundraising donors and the participation of our Chapter members, we were able to raise $3,136.87.

The 2021-2022 Executive Committee Members are:

  • President – Robert Bringolf
  • President-Elect – Marion Baker
  • Recording Secretary-Treasurer – Dawn Franco
  • Executive Secretary-Treasurer – Rebecca Brown
  • Past President – Jamie Roberts
  • Ex Officio – Cecil Jennings

The Chapter is looking forward to what we can accomplish in 2021!  We plan to grow our aquatic education outreach efforts to provide more resources for K – college educators and hopefully offer an in-person workshop towards the end of the summer.  We are excited about reinventing our annual meetings and will be planning to introduce some of what we did during the 2021 virtual meeting to our 2022 annual meeting agenda.