BOZEMAN - Strong connections between fly fishing communities in southwest Montana and Central America has led to a new MSU research project in Belize.
This summer, graduate student and Belize-native Alex Anderson will be traveling to his home country to study the conch population, which is a common name applied to a number of different medium to large-sized sea snails or shells.
Anderson will be counting conch by measuring their shell length and thickness.
"We'll be going across Turneffe and running transects, so we will pretty much run a 50 meter by 4 meter transect, which is just a line," said Anderson.
The purpose of the project is to find out how many conch there are and what level of fishing the conch population can sustain.
"There are concerns that the fishermen may be over-fishing the conchs such, and there are going to be fewer conch in the future for them to harvest," said Alexander Zale, leader of the Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit in MSU's Department of Ecology. "We want to make sure that they are able to continue to fish their commercially at the same at tourists are going down there and catching fish recreationally. We want to maintain that way of life."
Anderson grew up fly fishing and will work with two fishermen on his research. Anderson said 2,800 fishermen depend on conch in Belize.
"When you look at these fishermen and their families that benefit from this, it's about 13,000 thousand people," said Anderson.
Anderson said although they're thousands of miles apart, Montana and Belize are similar-- especially when it comes to fly fishing.
"The ecosystems are quite different, but when you look at the bigger picture on how people appreciate being out catchy and release sports fishing," said Anderson.
Anderson said he feels honored to be able to do his graduate study in his homeland.
"I feel very privileged to be here. The experience at MSU and here in Bozeman has just been eye opening for me," said Anderson.
Anderson will leave on Friday and will be gone for three and a half months in Belize.8