Research fisheries biologist keeps tabs on the health and abundance of the groundfish populations along the entire West Coast — not salmon, not tuna, but those species that are usually found near the seafloor, like sablefish, flatfish, lingcod and rockfish.
What do you do? I’m a research fisheries biologist for NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center. I work in the group that keeps tabs on the health and abundance of the groundfish populations along the entire West Coast — not salmon, not tuna, but those species that are usually found near the seafloor, like sablefish, flatfish, lingcod and rockfish.
How did you get started in that field? I was an East Coast poli-sci undergrad with thoughts of going to law school until I spent six months working in a D.C. law firm, so I decided to go to grad school and try something completely different. I completed a program in Marine Resource Management at Oregon State University, and through connections I made in grad school, got the job I have today.
What’s a typical day like? I’m at sea for about eight weeks in the summer and fall, aboard chartered fishing boats. We use fishing gear to take random samples of the groundfish populations along the West Coast, and collect biological data from the fish we catch to understand the demographics of each species and track their abundance. This information is then used by fishery managers to set allowable harvests for sport and commercial fishermen. The rest of my time is spent in the office doing standard computer work — planning and logistics, data analysis, writing proposals and reports, and a little lab work.
What’s the best part of the job? There’s so many great things that come together here — an amazing group of co-workers; a core mission that I believe in; and the opportunity to go out to sea, work alongside fishermen collecting data in a spectacular setting, explore and analyze the information we just collected, and then convey our findings to the public — you couldn’t write a better job description.
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What surprises people about your work? That there’s an entire government agency devoted to the sustainability of our fish populations — I think fish are just off most people’s radars unless they happen to be at Ivar’s. When people learn I’m a marine biologist, they immediately think Flipper and dolphins and seabirds and otters. When I explain that I work with groundfish, I can sort of see the look in their eyes change a little — like, “What kind of lame marine biologist studies that?” I feel like I need to convince them that really, this is the best job in the world!