Giving back: a fisheries biologist’s mission

by Aaron Cushing, guest blogger

Fisheries biologists love fish.  It’s that simple.

We all work long days in the summer sun to improve fisheries resources in lakes and streams across the world.  In freshwater, we electrofish after dark to sample as many fish as possible to get the best data, often going to bed when the sun comes up.  In the icy winter, we lose the feeling in our fingertips in frigid temperatures working with wet hands tagging fish, measuring environmental variables, and collecting water samples. With the approval of our family and significant others, we keep water samples (and other things) in our home refrigerators.

But how can you tell just how much we enjoy what we do? Just ask yourself what most of us do on our time off?  Go fishing of course.

Dave & Kid w fishing rod
Many biologists work all week, then hit the water on the weekends to help out with fishing derbies

What most folks don’t realize is that these same ‘fish squeezers’ care just as much about people as they do about fish.  We enjoy sharing our passion, managing and working for, educating, and giving back to, the people and communities who care about fish just like we do.  Whether it’s state biologists managing a river for trout or a lake for walleye, or a private biologist with a company focused on a private bass pond, we all manage fish for people.

Many private biologists spend a significant amount of time teaching individual clients and HOA boards about their ponds and lakes, explaining to them the science and the reasoning behind their management recommendations.

Both public and private biologists also spend a significant amount of time giving back through education by teaching and supporting the people who benefit from their management and knowledge. Fisheries biologists are often seen at events like county fairs, local festivals, and public fishing tournaments interacting and educating the general public with a variety of displays and materials.

Heritage Day fish tank 2 04.06.13
Displays like this one are important for engaging and educating the younger generation about aquatic resources

A great example where both public and private biologists from the Washington D.C. area come together every year is the annual Family and Youth Casting Call, where more than 700 kids learned to fish and participated in environmental education activities in 2014 alone.  The great thing is, thanks to biologists and volunteers, events like this are happening all over the country. My employer, SOLitude Lake Management, encourages and rewards team members who volunteer their time to educate and assist the communities we serve through its community outreach program, The SOLution.

Fisheries biologists also give back by mentoring one-on-one or sponsoring students. This can can open up doors for individuals to careers and opportunities. The American Fisheries Society (AFS) gives back in a big way through their Hutton Junior Fisheries Biology Program, pairing high school students interested in fisheries science with local fisheries professionals, providing paid on the job work experience and an academic scholarship upon their completion.  Most state and regional AFS chapters also provide travel scholarships to students currently conducting research, allowing them to share their work with their peers and to begin building their professional network.

Kids measuring after electrofishing
After an electrofishing demo, these kids got to jump onto the boat and measure the catch

Growing up my local technical high school provided me with the opportunity to major in Aquatic Ecology.  I learned the basics of fisheries management and aquatic sciences in the classroom and in the field. I remember meeting many local biologists on class field trips who took their time to work with us and teach us what they knew.  Learning how to collect, identify, and sample fish as a teenager not only encouraged and motivated me to go on to pursue a career in fisheries, it also gave me an edge in many of my college classes as well.

I recently had the gratifying experience of being invited to return to my high school alma mater to speak on how my experience in Aquatic Ecology helped lay my foundation and launch my professional career.  I presented to each grade level throughout the day explaining how educational and job pursuits can take you anywhere you want to go.  Sharing my travels from the Thousand Islands of NY, to the trout waters of Arkansas, to the mountains of Nevada, to the great salmon fishery of the Columbia River, helped show that when work is your passion, it can also be fun.  It also helps to mention that if you do well in college, you may even get paid to go to grad school!

My father always told me that if you find a job that you are passionate about, you never have to work a day in your life.  Many of my fellow fisheries professionals feel the same way.  We want the kids we know and the adults we work for to feel the same way too.  We all want them to be just as passionate about something as we are.  That is why we manage fish for people.  That is why we all give back.


Family and Youth Casting Call:

Buffalo Public Schools:

SOLitude Lake Management: The SOLution

One Comment Add yours

  1. Luke says:

    Think about the shape our resources might be in without talented biologists like Aaron working to maintain our fisheries. It’s hard working and talented biologists like him that help us enjoy the lakes and rivers we are blessed with in this county. Thanks for sharing your work here Aaron!

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