By Erika Lower, Summer Science Communications Intern
Getting fisheries data in the hands of people who could use it poses a challenge for researchers, who often focus on the technical aspects of their work more than its direct applications.
“With the kind of work we’re all doing, it’s easy to get stuck in your own box,” says Mark Stratton, Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) Ph.D. student. Working with his VIMS research advisor Rob Latour, Stratton is conducting an ecological analysis of near-shore fisheries along the U.S. East Coast.
By studying the abundance, distribution, and diets of fishes caught by fishery-independent trawl surveys, he’s amassing knowledge about fish communities as a whole. With the support of his Virginia Sea Grant Graduate Research Fellowship, he’ll be able to share that knowledge with fisheries managers who need it.
The Virginia Sea Grant Graduate Research Fellowship provides two years of support to Ph.D. candidates doing coastal and marine research at Virginia universities. New this year, Fellows are also working with outreach mentors to make the results of their research accessible to stakeholders, managers, and the public at large.
Working with an outreach mentor is “a great chance for growth,” Stratton says. His outreach mentor, Geneviève Nesslage of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), is working with him to incorporate his results into management models for this complex, multi-species system.
Stratton met his mentor last year, and has since consulted with her on ways to make his research more useful to resource managers, including the best ways to format and present his data and in which directions he might want to take his work.
“As a stock assessment scientist, Geneviève can lead me down the right path in terms of modeling, simulation, and developing my statistical abilities,” he says. “Having those skills is really important for understanding how my work is relevant to management and for success at the next professional level.”
“Being able to speak the language is so important,” Ryan Schloesser agrees.
Schloesser, a Virginia Sea Grant Fellow at VIMS, studies the health of juvenile fish populations in the Chesapeake Bay with his advisor Mary Fabrizio. He’s learning the language of fisheries management through his outreach mentor Robert O’Reilly of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. Working with O’Reilly means that Schloesser gets to participate in fisheries management discussions in the region.
“I wouldn’t be nearly as involved without my mentors,” Schloesser says. “Instead, I get to see how my work will be used.”
Schloesser is three years into his research and will complete it within the upcoming year. Whether he goes into state, federal, or postdoctoral work, he plans to continue working in applied fisheries sciences. He views his time with the outreach mentors as a uniquely valuable experience.
“The outreach component really is beneficial for everybody involved,” Schloesser says. “I can’t think of another program that has so many opportunities for engagement.”