A fisheries biologist is a scientist who carries out research studies on fish in their natural or artificial habitats. His or her work may cover a variety of fisheries aspects such as investigation on water quality changes, fish stock assessment, fish diseases among others. Most of their studies are carried out in the field while the samples collected in the field are analyzed in specialized laboratories. The study of fisheries encompasses a wide range of interrelated sciences and it is therefore not possible to study all of them at once. Biologists employ sophisticated laboratory equipment such as multi parameter probes for water quality analysis, microscopes to study samples at the molecular level, while highly trained experts might use their knowledge of genetics to explain taxonomic and evolutionary changes in fish species populations. Using extensive knowledge of fish behavior, a highly trained fish biologist can be able to accurately determine the best times of year to fish for a certain species, or to participate in policy formulations for aquatic resources management in a given water body. A qualified fisheries biologist can work in research institutions, fish processing factories, aquaculture establishments, or as a lecturer in a university. A bachelor’s degree in aquatic science, fisheries biology, zoology or any other similar qualifications would enable one to join the field of biological sciences.
Interview (responsibilities, educational, and employment background)
Due to my great interest in fisheries biology, i visited a local marine and fisheries research institute and was privileged to interview Dr. Humphrey Parsons, a Senior Fisheries Researcher at the local research institute. I learnt that Dr. Humphrey’s job responsibilities included: creating, designing and implementing research studies involving lake and river ecosystems; managing, monitoring and evaluating research projects; general administration and co-ordination of fisheries research activities within the station; management of large consultancies and donor-funded projects in fisheries research and pollution monitoring and socio-economics research. His roles also included supervision of senior and junior research personnel, providing advice regarding experimental design and statistical practices to junior researchers. In addition, Dr. Humphrey represents the research institute at professional meetings and communicates research results to the public. He also lectures part-time at a local university.
Dr. Humphrey holds a PhD in Fisheries Biology from Brussels University; a Master’s degree in Aquatic Ecology from the University of Ghent and a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Boston University in the United States of America. In addition, Dr Humphrey has extensive training in short courses relevant to fisheries ecology such as: fisheries taxonomy, training on project monitoring and evaluation, research project proposal development, economic evaluation of marine and coastal resources among others. He has also attended several workshops on fisheries management and research. Dr. Humphrey joined the fisheries research institute immediately upon completion of his undergraduate degree in biology as an assistant research officer. He served in this position for a period of 3 years before he was promoted to a research officer II; a position he held for 4 years. While at this position, Dr Humphrey enrolled for a Master’s degree in Aquatic Ecology and on completion he was promoted to the post of a research officer I and subsequently served as a fisheries research coordinator. During this term, Dr Humphrey enrolled for a PhD in Fisheries Biology and on completion was promoted to his present position of a Senior Research Officer and appointed as the Director of Inland Fisheries research at the institute. He has done extensive research for over 15 years in the lake and river ecosystems, giving him sufficient experience to manage research projects in fisheries. He has worked for a number of reputed international and local organizations and firms, thereby gaining international project management experience. In addition he has coordinated and managed large consultancies and donor-funded projects. Dr. Humphrey has good understanding of impacts of climate change in fisheries and water quality in the US, Africa and Europe, and has published widely in his areas of science.
Why Fisheries Biology
During the interview, Dr. Humphrey admitted to having a passion for nature and more so the aquatic sciences. His interest in the biological sciences started while in high school, but he did not focus on fisheries biology as a career until he completed his undergraduate degree. Dr. Humphrey most enjoys the variety of issues that he deals with on a daily basis as a fisheries biologist. He also enjoys working outdoors, and this he admits is probably one of the main reasons why he chose to enter the field of fisheries biology. According to him, the lakes and rivers are fascinating and complex systems that are never boring to work on. Dr. Humphrey advices that people should not join this field because they hope to get rich; instead, they really have to like what they do in order to work long hours for the relatively average wages earned by fisheries biologists. This field of science is highly dynamic due to climate change as a result of global warming hence provides an ever increasing number of challenges for researchers who are seeking for such challenges.
Current Research Projects
Dr Humphrey has several research projects running concurrently in various aquatic ecosystems. The main projects include: 1.) Ecological succession and the dynamic status of aquatic macrophytes in the Great Lakes’ ecosystem: The project’s goal is to assess the ecological succession and the dynamics of aquatic macrophytes in lake ecosystems in relation to fisheries’ productivity using a variety of research instruments and environmental parameters. The study aims to address the following objectives namely: status of aquatic macrophytes within the Great Lakes’ ecosystem, associated biodiversity, ecological indicators, ecological succession and emerging threats to fisheries resources. 2.) Desk based study to generate baseline information on the current status of biodiversity in the Great Lakes region: This project conducts baseline studies to generate critical baseline information on the status of biodiversity data and databases in the Great Lakes region. The study involves arranged field visits, interviews and data acquisition from institutions (major stakeholders) that benefit from these fisheries resources. 3.) Lake Michigan Fish Stock Assessment: This project involves fish stock and catch assessment, fisheries biology studies, environmental parameter monitoring, socio-economic studies, fish quality studies, capacity building, infrastructural development and post harvest losses prevention.
Having been in the fisheries biology research field for many years, Dr Humphrey strongly values observational and analytical skills in carrying out this kind of job. He explains that this being a multidisciplinary field of science, it is important that any interested person possesses these vital skills in addition to having a strong organizational and managerial skills to be able to manage and prioritize several assignments at once, deliver on time and within given budgets.
Changes in Fisheries Biology in the Next 5 years
Dr. Humphrey predicts that there will be significant changes in fisheries biology research in the next five years triggered by climate changes as a result of environmental degradation and global warming (Brander, 2007), and as a result the socio-economic trends may trigger more focus on development of aquaculture. Serious impacts are likely to arise through complex behavioral and physiological responses of fish which may be as a result of changes to the environment arising from adaptive fish strategies for coping with these changes (Halls & Welcomme, 2004). A rise in temperature will reduce oxygen solubility in water but will in turn raise the demand of oxygen and food intake for fish as it raises their metabolic rates. Higher water temperatures may also favor the survival of harmful parasites and bacteria. All these responses combine to potentially reduce fish survival rates, growth rate and reproductive success both in natural ecosystems and aquaculture systems. Past studies have also shown that the reproductive success of tropical species can be directly affected by elevated temperatures (Ficke et al., 2007).
The expansion of existing aquaculture systems may become an important adaptive strategy option for farmers in the future. Increasing flows during the flood season will translate to more extensive and prolonged floodplain inundation potentially increasing overall system productivity including the fish component (Junk et al., 1989; Welcomme, 1985). Recent research has shown that the growth of fish in some aquatic systems is closely linked to the extent of floods and the duration (Halls et al., 2008). Longer and more extensive flooding is likely to provide prolonged feeding opportunities for fish, (Welcomme & Halls, 2001).
Brander, K. M. (2007). Global fish production and climate change. PNAS 104:19709-19714.
Ficke, A. D., Myrick, C. A. & Hansen, L. J. (2007). Potential impacts of global climate change on freshwater fisheries. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 17:581-613.
Halls, A. S. & Welcomme, R. L. (2004). Dynamics of river fish populations in response to hydrological conditions: a simulation study. River Research and Applications 20: 985-1000.
Halls, A. S., Lieng, S., Ngor, P. & Tun, P. (2008). New research reveals ecological insights into the daily fishery. Catch & Culture 14: 8-12.
Junk, W. J., Bayley, P. B., Sparks, R. E. (1989). The flood pulse concept in river-floodplain systems. In Proceedings of the International Large Rivers Symposium, 106:110-127.
Welcomme, R. L. (1985). River Fisheries. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 262: 330pp.
Welcomme, R. L. & Halls, A. S. (2001). Some considerations of the effects of differences in flood patterns on fish populations. Ecohydrology and Hydrobiology 1:313-321.