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Youth at USGS: Aaron Cupp Helps Ensure Safe Drugs for Aquatic Species
Released: 9/7/2012 8:01:44 AM

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
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Don Sweet 1-click interview
Phone: 703-648-6645

Jennifer LaVista 1-click interview
Phone: 303-202-4764

My name is Aaron Cupp, and I am a student employee at the USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center (UMESC) in La Crosse, WI. Currently, I am in my second year of graduate school at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point in the College of Natural Resources with the aim of completing a Master of Science degree in Fisheries. In 2011, I graduated from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse with a bachelor's degree in biology and a minor in chemistry.

My master's thesis research focuses on the effects of using sedatives to aid in the transport of live finfish. Sedatives can be beneficial when live fish are transported for supplemental stocking into public waterways and when they are supplied to live markets for human consumption.

How did you start working for the USGS?

In 2009 while attending UW-La Crosse as an undergraduate student, I applied to UMESC for a Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) position within the Aquatic Ecosystem Health branch. While many summer jobs can be a dime a dozen for college students, I knew that this position would allow me to gain valuable experience in assisting and conducting biological research. Eventually, it presented me with the opportunity to continue my employment at UMESC as a graduate student working on a specific UMESC research project.

Position cameras by boat for monitoring fish behavior in 0.5 acre outdoor earthen ponds.
USGS student employee Aaron Cupp helps position cameras by boat for monitoring fish behavior in 0.5 acre outdoor earthen ponds. Ponds are used for both research and fish production at the UMESC facility in La Crosse, WI. (Full size image)
Yellow perch fingerlings are grown in warmer temperatures to achieve desired weights and length for studies.
Yellow perch fingerlings are grown in warmer temperatures to achieve desired weights and length for studies. USGS student employee Aaron Cupp conducts daily activities of monitoring, feeding and cleaning of all test fish. Healthy fish are the basis for quality research at UMESC. (Full size image)

What is a day in your life like?

Research at the USGS Aquatic Ecosystem Health branch mainly involves generating data for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). Specifically, USGS investigations help determine the safety and effectiveness of aquaculture drugs as well as develop new methods to control invasive species such as zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha), sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus), and Asian carps.

USGS student employee Aaron Cupp driving a tractor.
USGS student employee Aaron Cupp driving a tractor. All studies require construction of aquaculture systems tailored to the goal of each study. Aquaculture systems range from small aquaria to complex recirculating aquaculture systems. (Full size image)
USGS student employee Aaron Cupp with a lake trout.
UMESC conducts research on various anesthetics and sedatives used for fisheries management and various fish hatchery techniques. Above photo shows USGS student employee Aaron Cupp with a lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) under a handleable level of sedation for conducting sample counts to obtain proper feed rate calculations. UMESC supports research to gain approval of these sedatives through FDA.(Full size image)

Since this research revolves around the use of living organisms, it is my first and foremost responsibility to provide and maintain a quality life-supporting aquaculture environment for the production of healthy organisms.

Daily activities range from constructing experimental test systems to the feeding and cleaning of fish and their tanks. It is also my responsibility to assist and conduct research within the branch. Basic tasks for this research include calibration of instruments, handling test chemicals, generating data, and collaborating with CVM.

What is your most memorable experience with the USGS so far?

My most memorable experience with the USGS has been the opportunity to present my thesis research at the UMESC-hosted Aquaculture Drug Approval Coordination Meeting in La Crosse, WI. The meeting brought together various professionals from CVM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and multiple state agencies, as well as private industry members of the fisheries community. It was a great opportunity to meet those who may benefit from this research in the future and to have an opportunity to interact with professionals at all levels.

What do you see as the most valuable part of your work?

As my work and research at UMESC progresses, it is important that all of these data are applied to understand new aquaculture drugs. We hope to provide CVM with answers to a great many of the questions surrounding specific drugs in aquaculture. My thesis is just a small piece of the puzzle in supporting the Aquatic Ecosystem Health’s mission within the USGS.

What are your future plans?

Looking ahead to graduation in 2013, I fully intend to pursue a career as a professional in fisheries and aquaculture. Career paths may range from fish hatcheries and fisheries resource offices to working in diagnostic fish health laboratories. Regardless, I plan to use the knowledge and experience gained through my student employment with USGS, along with my educational background, as a foundation to be successful.

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