Julie Lively Takes a Deep Dive into Louisiana Fisheries and Her Fascination with Blue Crabs
November 03, 2022
On this episode of the "On Par with the President" podcast, President William F. Tate IV sits down with the executive director of the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program, Julie Lively. Her research has centered around commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico with a focus on blue crab including soft shell crab production, which generates about $293 million in Louisiana each year. Her work also includes shrimp and the shrimping industry, which generates a $1.3 billion economic impact per year. Louisiana is the largest producer of seafood in the contiguous U.S. Lively has led a wide range of Sea Grant-related research projects supported by more than $23 million in funding for which she has been the principal or co-principal investigator. Lively, an associate professor in LSU’s School of Renewable Natural Resources and Louisiana Sea Grant’s fisheries specialist, began her career at LSU in 2010.
Louisiana Sea Grant strives to promote stewardship of the state’s coastal resources through a combination of research, education and outreach programs critical to the cultural, economic and environmental health of Louisiana’s coastal zone. Louisiana Sea Grant is part of the National Sea Grant College Program, a network of 34 university-based programs in each of the U.S. coastal and Great Lakes states, Puerto Rico and Guam.
[00:00:00] President William F. Tate IV: Welcome to On Par with the President. Today I am joined by Julie Lively, associate professor in the School of Renewable Natural Resources, and the executive director of the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program. In fact, she's the first woman to serve as a director of this program, which was established in 1968. You grew up in Illinois, and then you went to school in Missouri. How did you get into marine biology?
[00:00:30] Dr. Julie Lively: I'm not really sure. Uh, although I just always loved the water and life in the water. Um, I grew up, my family would go fishing on a small pond. When I would get bored with fishing, which I wasn't great when I was little, so, you know, I'd start collecting the tadpoles, the snails. Um, and then my mom likes to always tell that when we went to Florida, when I was in kindergarten, you know, we were going to Disney and we went to Disney one day. We went to a beach one day, and on the second, the third day, they're like, Okay, you can pick which one you want.
[00:00:57] And, you know, everyone assumed I would really wanna go back and, you know, see Disney again. And I wanted to go to the beach and collect shells and just see things at the ocean. It was the first time I had seen the ocean, at least that I remembered. So I've always been attracted to the ocean and to the water.
[00:01:11] President William F. Tate IV: Well, your attraction has led you to study all kind of marine creatures, mostly blue crab. Besides being a delectable treat, what do you find fascinating about them?
[00:01:23] Dr. Julie Lively: So one thing that I think is really cool about, uh, most crabs and especially blue crabs, is that they hatch out at the size of almost just a pin drop. And these larval baby crabs will travel out into the Gulf or into the Atlantic Ocean, travel around for several months, and then even with very little swimming ability, they're able to come back to the coast and find a home on the coast. Uh, they can take advantage of really small, you know, changes. And one of the things I think is cool. I was just traveling in Maryland, uh, traveling along, you know, the Gulf. This one small invertebrate is such a cultural identity. Um, it is so important and you see it everywhere in art, in food, in music, um, in all of these areas, even though it's just essentially almost, you know, similar to a bug.
[00:02:10] President William F. Tate IV: Right. I spend a lot of time in Maryland. I'm a Maryland alum, and the crab is king in Maryland. You're right. So, your journey leads you to LSU. Talk about that and why did you decide to focus on the Gulf of Mexico?
[00:02:27] Dr. Julie Lively: So, uh, yeah. Growing up in Illinois, I then went to Truman State in Missouri where I was a biology major and actually a theater minor for costume backstage work. Um, and near the end, I was able to do a research experience for undergrads that took me to the University of Delaware and to their marine campus in Lewes. Um, from there I actually went back to Lewes then for grad school. And doing, started my masters, finished with my PhD, looking at chemical cues for an invasive crab. So those cues that the coastline gives off that again, are attracting those crabs back to the coast. Um, after I finished, I took a post-doc back with my old advisor who had, uh, needed a post-doc at the time, and I was able to work with the commercial industry.
[00:03:11] Um, they use horseshoe crab as bait in the eel and welk industry, and they were seeing declines in the population. So they wanted to either replace horseshoe crab or make it go farther as bait. So I just got a great opportunity to start working with applied, really applied work, working with commercial fishermen. Um, and then someone sent me the job ad. I'd actually never been to Louisiana untill I interviewed for fishery specialist. But I really liked the idea of working in an area that has such great commercial fisheries. Delaware is down to a handful of commercial fishermen. It was great to see an area where fishing is still a way of life. Um, it's viable and there's plentiful seafood.
[00:03:50] President William F. Tate IV: Well, we're glad you're here. Now you're here at LSU and we have a couple special designations, actually, three. We're a Sea Grant institution. We're a Land Grant institution. We're a Space Grant, uh, designation as well. What does this mean for you and what does it mean for your work?
[00:04:07] Dr. Julie Lively: So for me, it's absolutely integral to almost everything I do, especially the Land Grant, Sea Grant. Uh, so about 40% of Sea Grant's employees are actually dual Land Grant, Sea Grant, which allows us to leverage two federal funding agencies to really bring in more money and more resources to the state of Louisiana. Um, we're able to do a lot more with Land Grant. It gives us that connection to the coast with all the cooperative extension offices and then it also gives us a huge network. Um, so we're connected to the National Land Grant Networks. We're connected to the National Sea Grant Network. Um, there's a Sea Grant program in 34 states or territories.
[00:04:47] So we have that network that we can rely on. So again, we can leverage resources. We unfortunately just can't do everything in Louisiana and a lot of coastal problems don't stay within the state. So we're able to kind of leverage those resources. And then just in the last couple years, we've actually started directly partnering with Space Grant here in Louisiana. Um, we've seen there's a lot of overlap between what NOAA and what NASA want in priorities, want in workforce development. So we have some shared fellowships for students that they can kind of learn what both agencies are looking for, develop skill sets that will benefit both groups.
[00:05:23] President William F. Tate IV: That sounds pretty special. There are not a lot of universities with all three designations, so I've always been very proud to be part of a place like that. Help me understand why Louisiana might be positioned to be successful at environmental stewardship.
[00:05:40] Dr. Julie Lively: So I think here it's because our coast is so integrated to everything we do, um, it is so important to the culture and way of life of Louisiana.
[00:05:49] You know, we are the sportsman's paradise, so people love to recreate, hunt everything across Louisiana and that requires having a good environment. Um, you know, our commercial fishermen for the most part, all recognize that you have to have a really good environment to keep those fisheries going. So they definitely are able to do that, um, and focus on ways to improve the environment.
[00:06:15] Um, a lot of what we do is, you know, educating the next generation so that they're also good environmental stewards. Um, and that's, I think, I feel, feel like, you know, across Louisiana when I meet people, they recognize that they are relying on the environment for their way of life as well as just for recreation and for culture.
[00:06:32] President William F. Tate IV: So to keep that stewardship alive, I don't think people understand often time in extension through Sea Grant, we have agents, people who work with the communities. Why don't you help us understand what the Sea Grant agents do and who do they help? How, how does this all play out?
[00:06:49] Dr. Julie Lively: Yes, so our extension agents are some of those dual Land Grant, Sea Grant role that I just mentioned, and they are housed in the cooperative extension offices across the coastal parishes. So this means they're living and working right in those communities. So it's great to be able to get, when we have some new research results on campus, things that can help the coast, how to build better, how to, you know, some new management. We can get that directly through the agents, to the parishes, to those communities.
[00:07:20] Um, the agents do a lot of youth development through the schools through 4H, so they're trying to train the new environmental stewards. We find that a lot of the students, even though they live near the coast, may never have really interacted with the coast. Um, or even recognized, you know, one of our agents used to do, how far are you from the coast, and not distance, but elevation, to help them kind of recognize their real connection with the coast. Um, another piece I think that is really important is that, we then get back some of the really important problems that are happening on the coast, so they're able to come to campus, look for researchers to solve problems.
[00:08:00] Recently we had, uh, our crawfish industry has a virus that has been wiping out ponds. And so they were able to come to LSU, find researchers that could help start working on the problem. And unfortunately, while crawfish is so important to us, it doesn't get a lot of national attention. And a lot of the national funding agencies say, well, that's a Louisiana problem. So they don't get a lot of, you know, attention and research at a high level. So the agents were able to identify these issues and bring it back, and so we were able to get research done that we really need here in Louisiana.
[00:08:33] President William F. Tate IV: Well, that's exciting and there's another exciting part about your professional career that maybe you don't think about it this way. You're a principal investigator or a Co-PI on research grants that total more than 23 million dollars. Which, using our three to one multiplier, is about 69 million dollars of economic impact. Point of fact though, because you work with industry, it's probably even greater economic impact. So what's the key to your success? Because we need more people who are doing things like you're doing in terms of their research.
[00:09:07] Dr. Julie Lively: So I think a lot of it is those partnerships. Uh, you know, talking to other researchers I have a much larger diverse Co-PI list. Um, I definitely have researchers across campus, but then, you know, researchers at other institutions, but then researchers and people outside, so state managers, federal managers, you know, federal partners. Um, because we get so involved in the communities, and so I think that helps that we're able to build these partnerships. We're able to do research that's across the state lines because we have a lot of these existing networks and so we can solve problems.
[00:09:41] You know, workforce development is really huge everywhere in the US right now, but the seafood industry has been seeing it for years. So we have several regional and national projects trying to focus on workforce development for the fishing industry. But as well, it's also a lot of it, as I mentioned, I've always liked applied research, how we can help benefit, help drive economic development.
[00:10:03] And a lot of the work is getting directly involved with the end users. So it's bringing in researchers and extension and education into these projects. So some of them were bringing the end users in at the beginning to help get their input into the research, um, so that we don't just find results that are almost useful but not quite useful for them. They can help kind of inform the research and then we're working with them at the very end so they have the results right away, and they can use it and start learning from it.
[00:10:32] President William F. Tate IV: So it's powerful that you're embedded in the community, and the community you work with generates about 850 million pounds of seafood each year. That's a significant amount of seafood. Help us understand, maybe give us an example of what you do in Sea Grant that specifically helps this important industry?
[00:10:52] Dr. Julie Lively: Yes. So, um, you know, one of the things we've been working with is understanding management. And so, you know, some of the research that we've been able to fund just recently, actually they're changing, um, in October, the flounder, recreational and commercial limits and some of that management. And those decisions were made based off of research that was done, that was funded by Louisiana Sea Grant, because a need was identified and they were able to start working and actually getting that information here at LSU.
[00:11:18] President William F. Tate IV: Now you work on the Gulf of Mexico, which is a pretty special place. If you wanted to say one thing to Louisiana residents about the Gulf of Mexico, what would you say?
[00:11:31] Dr. Julie Lively: I would say that it's really important, um, often I feel like the Gulf of Mexico kind of gets, you know, we're often referred to as the third coast. We're overshadowed by the larger coasts on either side, but it is, again, so important. We are the largest fishery down here, um, after only Alaska. We have so much oil and gas. So much economic development across the coast, but across the country relies on the Gulf of Mexico. Here in Louisiana, especially partnered with the Mississippi River, transportation is so important. And so grain and products from all over the US are going down the river and through Louisiana to the Gulf and then out across the world. Um, and I think most people, even in Louisiana, just don't recognize how important that is to the global economy, um, and even just definitely to the US economy as well.
[00:12:22] President William F. Tate IV: Yeah, I agree with you. I think it is a understated reality that the distribution system through the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River is absolutely essential for the economy of the United States and really other places. Uh, so I'm really thankful for what you're doing. Unfortunately, we've experienced another hurricane in the state of Florida. And a Hurricane Ian had a massive impact on that state. What do you think the environmental repercussions are? The physical infrastructure? What, what's gonna happen in terms of the industry that you have great, uh, interest in and have invested in?
[00:13:00] Dr. Julie Lively: Yeah, so unfortunately across the Gulf we have just seen devastation in the last few years. So we are hearing that the vast majority of the fleet, so only a couple vessels are actually usable in like the large, uh, federal shrimp fleet. Um, and that's the same thing we saw here after the four hurricanes in, uh, 2020 and 2021. The devastation to the actual infrastructure is the immediate problem. It's just, you know, docks are ruined, boats are ruined, fish houses, all of these things rely on electricity, water, um, and those are just things that are just not available for the foreseeable future.
[00:13:35] Um, we also may see impacts to the actual animals and to the populations as well, but unfortunately that does take a while. Um, but we usually do see some immediate fish kills. Some immediate, you know, direct impacts to the actual fish populations too.
[00:13:49] President William F. Tate IV: So, following up on that, are there things that we could do that would better protect and preserve the physical infrastructure? Or is it, it's just the cost of doing business in this industry?
[00:14:01] Dr. Julie Lively: No. So that is, you know, one of the projects we've been working on a lot here is harbors of refuge. Um, so I'm also called them safe harbors, areas to get vessels that would get out of the storm surge. Um, we have a couple in Louisiana, but we have way too many vessels that can fit in the few that we have.
[00:14:18] And so that's something that we've identified as a major need. As well as almost all of our docks and processors are outside of the flood protection. And so, you know, we've been working with the industry, um, meeting actually every two weeks since hurricane, uh, Ida to try to figure out how we can rebuild the infrastructure in a way that's a little further away that's not directly right on the water and right in the path of the hurricanes.
[00:14:46] President William F. Tate IV: You find yourself in a distinctive position, historical, in many respects, being the first woman to lead Sea Grant. Do you have any advice for other aspiring coastal and marine scientists who might, uh, also be women who are thinking about leadership roles? What, what would you wanna say to them, um, as they pursue the, the profession going forward?
[00:15:07] Dr. Julie Lively: I would encourage them to find a good mentor or good support network. Um, all of my advisors always pushed me, always encouraged me. Um, it never became a well, you're not gonna be able to get further, you're not gonna be able to advance. Um, there's always that strong network and somebody to support, to be in your corner. Um, cause I think again, it's really important as we face all of these coastal challenges. They're not gonna go away, and we need all the voices in the room. So it is really important to get diverse people in every level.
[00:15:39] President William F. Tate IV: I don't know if you saw the recent article, I believe it was in Proceedings of the National Academy, and it was about the diversity, diversity of research teams and how the most profound findings were the teams that had, uh, gender balance.
[00:15:52] And people just see the world in different ways and that research is impacted. So, I, I, I hope that people are listening and, and encouraged to be part of coastal and marine science. Well, you're an executive director. That's a little bit different than being a professor or a PI because you've got to manage a large portfolio, a larger portfolio, for sure, than if you're a professor or even a PI on a pretty sizable grant. What's your vision? What, what do you want to get accomplished while you're the executive director? What would make you happy when it's over?
[00:16:30] Dr. Julie Lively: So, you know, one thing is just, uh, you know, I was willing to, you know, apply to be director after being the fishery specialist, because I saw what Sea Grant could accomplish, all the things they could help do on the coast, the important things that Sea Grant was bringing. Um, and I wanted to make sure that we continued that history. One of the specific programs I'm hoping to start next year is a leadership program for the seafood industry. So one of the problems we've seen is that as workforce is diminishing across the seafood industry, we're also losing a lot of those strong leaders.
[00:17:01] They're just aging out of the fleet. And Sea Grant prides itself, you know, as a federally funded entity, we are non advocacy. We can't pick sides. We can't directly influence policy. We can provide the best information, but we recognize that the industry and the coast need to speak up for themselves. And unfortunately, we're just not seeing as many new leaders coming forward. So we're hoping to kind of, you know, drive some leadership training so that we can get the industry directly involved in management, in policy, so that they're helping drive their industry into the future.
[00:17:36] President William F. Tate IV: I have a fun question for you. So you study fish and other sea creatures, but do you eat them too?
[00:17:46] Dr. Julie Lively: I definitely do. Um, I love all seafood. It's one of the things I think that I love being here in Louisiana. Illinois, especially years ago, we did not have a lot of great fresh seafood. I grew up on frozen fish sticks. Uh, and um, I think actually I, you know, yeah, I was just in Maryland last week and one of the things, even when you're in the Chesapeake, they don't tell you is how important Louisiana Blue Crab is. So even when I was in Maryland, I ate several great amazing crab dishes that when we asked was actually Louisiana Crab. Um, cause we do supply so much across the nation. Um, but yeah, I love all seafood and I think it's, you know, great that it, we have so much here.
[00:18:27] President William F. Tate IV: Awesome. Well, it's been great to talk to you. We're thankful that you're here and I wish you the very best with your research because your research is critically important, not just for our scientific community, but for the people of Louisiana. So thank you for what you're doing, and I look forward to reading more about your great work with crab.
[00:18:46] Dr. Julie Lively: Thank you.