Five Questions For All Fish Scientists

Guest Author: Nick Kramer

The Fisheries Podcast is a weekly podcast that shares the stories of the amazing people and projects that make up fisheries science. Each week, I interview a different person from the field of fisheries science, asking them a slew of questions pertaining to their research and/or past experiences.

I have interviewed a range of guests from an undergraduate student to professors, private fish management biologist to a federal researcher. Their stories are all unique and interesting in their own ways. I always end the interviews with “The Final Five Questions”. This is a group of five questions that I ask each of the guests that come on the show. I often ponder how I would answer the questions myself if the roles were ever reversed and I will admit, they are tough. So, for the thrill of it, here is a glimpse at how I would answer the final five questions:

We always start real simple:

What is your favorite fish?

My favorite fish is the Paddlefish and I dare you to show me a more unique, charismatic fish. These things are truly amazing. They look like nothing else, can migrate thousands of miles, reach huge sizes, eat tiny plankton, and have done it all for millions of years. Bring on the competition!

What is your favorite memory from your career so far?

This is such an amazing career field that many guests have a difficult time narrowing it down to just one memory and I fall into the same bubble. My most memorable experiences come from my time spent working on the Mississippi River. We would take lunch on the sandy banks of islands, root around in log jams for “treasure,” walk gravel bars looking for petrified wood, fossils, or arrowheads, and of course we would get some work done too. I set trotlines for Pallid Sturgeon and later trawled for their larval kin. I set gill nets off wing dams and caught Paddlefish that would later turn up in every reachable corner of the Mississippi drainage. I have launched boats off road ditches and electrofished in flooded cornfields. The Mississippi River is so diverse and offers up a surprise every single time you are fortunate enough to share a day with her.

What is your dream job or dream location to work in?

I have asked this to more than 50 different guests, and almost all of them that aren’t students have said something to the effect of “I’m in my dream job” and I think I’ll have to agree with them. After being asked a few times during job interviews, I determined that my main career goal was to, simply, be respected. That goal does not tie me to any certain place geographically but I would be lying if I said that I do not love what I get to do now. I manage waters in a small slice of northeast Kansas and get to lead education programs or kids fishing outings for roughly 1,500 students a year. The fine research staff in Kansas even lets me play around with some of those research questions in my head. I told the panel when I interviewed that this location was close enough to family to keep me around, but also far enough away to keep me sane. I’m in my dream job.

If money was not an object, what is one project that you would like to work on?

This is really where people start to get tripped up, scientists are usually trying to get their project to fit into a budget so it takes a while for my interviewees to think of something large and elaborate. There are a lot of great answers and a lot of other potential answers but for me I would like to work on a large scale evaluation of gear and sampling design to sample fish. We know a lot about how to sample fish, how much effort is required to get certain results, if you tweak this more fish may die or live, or this bait catches this fish but excludes others. But at the same time is there room for improvement? What if there is a new gear or sampling design out there that could sample our fishes more efficiently and we don’t’ know it? I’m just curious. A couple answers that have been brought up in the final question are to be skeptical and question everything. Why not start with how we collect our data?

And the final question:

If there was one point or principle that you could have programmed into everyone’s head, what would it be?

Another head scratcher, most people do not walk around with this thought in the front of their mind. Most people don’t do a lot of things. As fisheries scientists, collectively we do a lot of amazing things, and how much of it do we tell people about? How many people in your town/suburb, on your street, in your church, in your carpool know what you do? Heck, how many of your family members know exactly what you do? The amount of information out there in all of our heads, on our data sheets, in our scientific publications is tremendous. Yet, many people don’t know it exists. So, my main point is to SHARE YOUR STORY! Tell people about all the wonderful research you are doing on sea-run Brook Trout, or Walleye, or Bonyhead Chubs, or Topeka Shiners. Tell them how you sample these fish, what kind of data you’re collecting, why is that data important, and how it will help that population. Worst case scenario, you waste a couple minutes of that person’s life. More likely, people will be interested and want to know more, some may even want to know how to help. Who knows, perhaps you’ll even inspire a young child into becoming a fisheries scientist.

If you are interested in sharing your story or just want to have a go at answering the questions outlined here email me at nick.kramer@thefisheriespodcast.com. The Fisheries Podcast releases new episodes every Sunday and can found on most of your favorite listening apps or locations; a full list of sources and episodes can be found at www.thefisheriespodcast.com.

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