Alabama Seafood 101: How Three Teachers Bring the Gulf Coast to Their Classroom

The summer is winding down, and schools are about to open their doors once again for the fall semester.

We’re fans of reading, writing, and arithmetic, to be sure, but we love it when teachers and professors add Alabama Gulf Seafood to their curriculum. After all, there’s plenty of work to be done to keep our product plentiful and safe, and today’s students are tomorrow’s workers.

In honor of back-to-school season, we’re highlighting three Alabama educators who’ve got Alabama Seafood on the menu—er, the syllabus—for this fall and beyond. Learn what they’ve got cooking in the classroom, then treat your family to an educational meal in your kitchen.

Dr. Allen Davis – Alumni Professor, Auburn University

Don’t let the title fool you—Dr. Allen Davis isn’t retired. The title of “alumni professor” was given in honor of his ongoing work at the Auburn University School of Fisheries Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences.

A native of Phoenix, Arizona, Dr. Davis began moving east for a PhD a The University of Texas’ Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas before finding a home here on the Gulf Coast in 2000. These days, he teaches courses on Aquatic Animal Nutrition and a Facilities Class that focuses on basic facilities skills for Aquaculture and Fisheries students.

“What many students do not realize is that to understand nutrition, one also has to have a good understanding of ecology, biology, and chemistry,” Dr. Davis said. “Nutrition relies on a student’s knowledge from a wide range of classes.”

Dr. Davis’ studies have led him to focus on a pair of Alabama species in particular: the Florida Pompano and the Pacific White Shrimp.

He and his team do a lot of work with the development of nutritional requirements, feed management, and other production technologies for the White Shrimp, which is the primary shrimp species in Alabama.

As for the Pompano, Auburn’s research program is designed to improve the nutrition for and thusly the production of these fish.

“The Florida Pompano is an exceptional fish in terms of culture potential,” Dr. Davis said. “There is considerable interest in both producing this fish for restocking as well as aquaculture. There is limited product from wild harvest, so there are several farms that are looking to produce this fish.”

Julian Stewart – Bryant High School

Julian Stewart has spent 20 years at Bryant High School in Irvington, AL. But before that, he spent 20 years in the marine sciences industry after receiving a master’s degree.

That would explain why all of his courses at Bryant High are related to the aquaculture field. His primary focus is Aquaculture Science—one of the few career tech courses that carries a full science credit—which can be followed by AquaExperience, an applied aquaculture class. He also teaches a Fish & Wildlife class.

As you might imagine, Stewart’s classes are pretty popular.

“I never have a shortage of students wanting to take the class,” Stewart said. “Some years there have been waiting lists. I even had some students tell me it was the only reason they stayed in school. I think the main reason is the hands-on aspects of the class.”

Naturally, Stewart’s students don’t just learn from textbooks and slideshows. With Alabama’s Gulf Coast right in their backyard, these students get to experience Alabama Gulf Seafood first-hand.

Bryant’s aquaculture program, originally constructed through a partnership with Auburn University, has focused on Red Snapper in recent years. Other species of focus have included Cobia, Redfish, White Shrimp, and Oysters.

“We have conducted more than a dozen scientific research projects that I was able to secure grant funding for,” Stewart said. “The students learn every aspect involved in producing the organisms. They must learn how it reproduces, what it eats, what specific water quality it needs, what is the ecological significance of the species, how is it marketed, advertised, and processed.”

Stewart’s students are certainly getting a quality education in aquaculture, but there’s a pretty nice perk that comes along with the coursework. Stewart developed his own oyster farm, Bonus Point Oysters, a half-shell oyster farm that produces over 200,000 oysters every year.

“I did not want to just teach aquaculture, I wanted to do aquaculture,” Stewart said. “That is the best way to learn it.”

Dr. Sean Powers – Professor and Chair of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama

It only makes sense that the University of South Alabama would be heavily involved in the seafood industry along the Gulf Coast.

The man in charge of that department is Dr. Sean Powers, a USA professor and Chair of Marine Sciences. Dr. Powers was born in New Orleans and earned his PhD at Texas A&M University before making his way to Mobile and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in 2003.

These days, he teaches a class on Quantitative Methods in Fisheries and a class in Marine Restoration Ecology, along with heading up a research group of 10-16 students. A focus of theirs is Red Snapper, one of Alabama’s most popular fish.

“The ecology of Red Snapper is very interesting and there are lots of data on the species, so that makes it great for class examples,” Dr. Powers said. “But more importantly, the controversy over how to manage the species makes it quite an example of how complex fisheries management can get.”

Dr. Powers’ students focus on a variety of other Alabama species as well, including Oysters, Shark, Speckled Trout, and other reef fish. Of course, having the Gulf Coast right in their backyard allows for plenty of field trips and hands-on learning.

“We take the students out and sample a few times for each class so they understand the resources we are studying,” Dr. Powers said. “The shrimp fishery, oyster fishery, and reef fisheries offer excellent examples of the complexities to marine policy, both science and management.”

There certainly are complexities to such work, but thanks to teachers like these and the students that they teach, Alabama’s seafood industry is in good shape for the next generation.