13 OF '13
Fred Scharf with a flounder
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Fish Expert Reels in National Award

In 2013, professor Fred Scharf with the UNCW Department of Biology and Marine Biology received the Excellence in Fisheries Education Award from the American Fisheries Society.

This prestigious award from the oldest and largest fisheries society in the world recognizes Scharf's long-term contributions to the field as a teacher, researcher and public policy advisor. His former students and colleagues nominated him for the award.

Scharf's influence on fisheries education extends far beyond the UNCW campus, where he has taught since 2003. In recent years, he has collaborated with colleagues from N.C. State and UNC Chapel Hill to thoroughly study flounder. Harvests of the fish generate as much as $5 million annually for coastal fishermen.

Relatively little is known about flounder, despite the species' importance. Until recently, no reliable estimate measured the number of flounder living in North Carolina waters. Without an accurate estimate, the state cannot make informed management decisions. If the fish are pulled from the water at too high a rate, depletion becomes a concern and could become disastrous.

Using funds from N.C. Sea Grant and the Division of Marine Fisheries, the researchers conducted a tagging project aimed at determining annual estimations of flounder being fished and how that compared to the entire population. The research also prompted Scharf's curiosity about how the fish matured developmentally.

"This impacts the timing of when we should harvest them," he explains. Catch a fish too soon, and it is prevented from spawning; catch it too late, and too many will have died from natural causes, which is a missed opportunity for fishermen.

Scharf and his colleagues conducted another study that revealed flounder develop more slowly than experts had previously believed. Based on recommendations from Scharf's team, the state raised the minimum-size limit on flounder that can be removed from N.C. waters.

Most recently, Scharf has focused on flounder migration and genetic diversity. His team of researchers, which includes UNCW undergraduate and graduate students, is examining flounder from the mid-Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico. The long-term goal: a more sophisticated understanding of the flounder population in North Carolina, which will lead to recalibration of management policies to preserve fish health while also maximizing opportunities for local fishermen.