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Fish biologist Clay Raines at EESC's Leetown Laboratory is helping to foster diversity in science through student internships.

In 2023, the Friends of Patuxent generously donated funds to EESC earmarked for diversity in science internships. A portion of those funds went to Fish Biologist Clay Raines and his work on blotchy bass syndrome with the help of two high school interns. Raines is stationed at EESC’s Leetown Research Laboratory in Kearneysville, WV. The two interns, from schools nearby the Leetown facility, were Emily Hunt, a senior at Jefferson High School and Brennan Landerkin, a senior at Spring Mills High School. "This funding provided the interns an opportunity to attend an upcoming conference of the West Virginia Chapter of the American Fisheries Society."

Emily and Brennan were put in charge of two USGS data projects, both in collaboration with West Virginia University and Texas Parks and Wildlife.  The first project was related to blotchy bass syndrome citizen science where we seek photos from the public of bass that have dark blotches on them. Blotchy bass syndrome is the presence of hyperpigmentation (melanosis) on the external surface of black basses.

“We have sourced images of fish from all around the continent through a variety of methods via the West Virginia University USGS Cooperative Research Unit,” said Raines. “We now know a lot about where and when the condition occurs, but not really anything else. Assuming the fish have the virus, which we are more than 95% confident in our detections, we can learn a lot about fish from images alone.”

The interns quantified individual blotches as well as the surface area of the fish to calculate a percent body coverage of the blotches using specialized computer software. When possible, the students also measured the length and fish body depth for a calculation of condition factor (how fat the fish is).  

Additionally, the students worked with US Census data to calculate population estimates for a separate project in Texas where former student mentees examined microplastics in fish found in Texas reservoirs.  Emily and Brennan conducted research to determine if watersheds with different population sizes had different levels of microplastics

In addition to the two data projects, the students also conducted some field work consisting of fish and habitat surveys in National Park Service Catoctin Mountain Park. Limited lab work consisted of total estrogen detection in surface water of Chesapeake Bay streams and collection of blood/plasma from Atlantic Salmon to determine background levels of polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS. Also called “forever chemicals,” PFAS are a group of more than 12,000 synthetic chemicals used in a wide variety of common applications, from the linings of fast-food boxes and non-stick cookware to fire-fighting foams and other purposes.
For Clay Raines, this past summer was part of a long-standing effort to encourage diversity in science. He has been supporting students within the West Virginia Health Science and Technology Academy (WVHSTA) intermittently since 2012. WVHSTA’s mission is promote college access within STEAM for underserved communities including diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ) initiatives and first-generation college students.

A similar program, the American Fisheries Society Hutton Junior Fisheries Biologist program seeks to increase diversity specifically within fisheries as a field. Raines was able to recruit students from the local area (already enrolled in WVHSTA) and have them apply to the national AFS program, where they were competitively selected. “The synthesis of these two methods allowed us to hedge our bets of getting a qualified student who was interested in working with EESC, while still promoting DEIJ initiatives which matter most of all for the future,” said Raines. “We were also able to work collaboratively with two Hutton scholars working in Texas, broadening the exposures and impacts.”

“Diversity in science is incredibly important. Not only does a diversified field stimulate a better marketplace of ideas due to a diversity of experiences, but it also promotes continual recruitment from more talent sources,” said Raines. “I am not sure if I converted either of them to fisheries, but my hope is that over time with enough mentoring opportunities I will be able to make little contributions. Emily and Brennan are great, hardworking kids, and I am better for knowing them.”

In addition to Clay Raines, funds were also awarded to Paula Henry and Andy Royle, both researchers stationed at Patuxent Research Refuge. Paula’s intern participated in crayfish research while Andy’s intern worked on the Refuge’s box turtle survey. You can read more about these projects in the next newsletter.

To learn more about USGS Eastern Ecological Science Center’s research on fish and wildlife from headwaters to oceans, visit Follow us on Facebook at for the latest updates on our science and ways you can get involved, including events at Patuxent Research Refuge.


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