New Orleans aquarium’s newest exhibit looks at our seafood bounty

The Aquarium of the Americas is all about presenting educational information in an entertaining way, so it should come as no surprise that the newest exhibit at the Aquarium of Americas features video games, two life-size boats and an opportunity to cast a virtual reel.

It’s called “Geaux Fish!” and while still in its infancy, it is proving to be a big hit with children and adults alike.

Located in the Changing Exhibits Gallery, the exhibit — which opened July 4 — aims to teach important lessons about Louisiana’s vibrant fishing industry and the aquarium’s role in protecting aquatic wildlife.

“Fishing, both recreationally and commercially, is such an integral part of our culture and heritage, but a lot of folks don’t know much about it beyond the dinner table,” said Rich Toth, the aquarium’s director of animal husbandry.

Through interactive games, hands-on displays, a seafood market and a play area, GEAUX FISH! showcases Louisiana’s fishing industry, with an emphasis on game fish, bait fish and commercial seafood.

Among other things, visitors will learn that the Gulf of Mexico supplies nearly a third of the domestic seafood consumed in the contiguous United States, that two-thirds of the nation’s shrimp and oysters are harvested from Gulf waters, and that the 1.75 billion pounds of fish and shellfish produced annually from the Gulf is more than that of the South and Mid-Atlantic, Chesapeake and New England fisheries combined.

Visitors also will learn how Audubon and its partners work with the Louisiana Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program to rehabilitate stranded dolphins and sea turtles, collect data about existing populations of marine animals and support researchers in the conservation of marine species.

In addition, the exhibit introduces visitors to the Aquarium’s newest initiative – Gulf United for Lasting Fisheries, also known as G.U.L.F., a certification program that encourages fisheries to go above and beyond to meet the highest international standards for responsible fisheries management.

“Our message is one of protecting the resources that we have,” Toth said. “It’s a well managed resource but we want to teach visitors about all the work that goes into managing that resource and what people can do to help.”

Ron Forman, president and CEO of the Audubon Institute, agreed. “It is essential that we teach our children about the importance of a vibrant, well-managed marine ecosystem so we can enjoy an abundance of aquatic life in the future.”

Aquarium officials began discussing the possibility of a fisheries exhibit about eight years ago, Toth said, but it wasn’t until the past couple of years that it began to materialize.

“There’s a tremendous amount of planning that goes into any exhibit we do,” Toth said. “You have to start from scratch every time. We’re always trying to present things in a new and different way. But we also have to be careful about giving people too much information. We pick the most important points and encourage people to delve more deeply on their own.”

From what Toth and Aquarium spokeswoman Katie Smith have observed, the exhibit, which is free with aquarium admission, is drawing lots of smiles.

“It’s been very positive,” Smith said. “Children love the interactive exhibits and adults appreciate the conservation messages concerning Louisiana seafood and the fishing industry.”

“As I walk through the gallery, I see all the excitement on people’s faces,” Toth said. “We’re very, very pleased with the response.”