Interview By Abigail Lynch
Fisherwomen is a new podcast about fish and the people who earn their living by them. Created and hosted by Katie Osborn, graduate of the Humboldt State MS program in Fisheries, the podcast covers diverse topics across the world of fisheries, from rivers to oceans, from research to art. Here, I have a virtual sit down with Katie to learn about why she started Fisherwomen.
Abigail Lynch (AL): People are fascinated with fish for all sorts of reasons. How did you get hooked (pardon the pun) on fisheries?
Katie Osborn (KO): I started off in wildlife. My first job out of college, I basically had poison oak for a solid year. It hit me that if I worked with fish, I could work from a boat, and working from boats wouldn’t require bush-whacking through poison oak infested areas! Of course since then, I’ve had plenty of fisheries jobs that have involved walking streams lined with poison oak. But by then it was too late, I was already invested in the fish. Once you learn about them, you can’t help but be interested. Fish are just inherently fascinating. And I’ve gotten a lot better at dodging poison oak, too.
AL: Studying fish doesn’t necessarily teach you how to communicate about fisheries. When did you decide you wanted to get into fisheries storytelling?
KO: I suppose it was gradual; yet, it felt sudden. In undergrad, I majored in Wildlife Biology and French, which got me interested in language and communications. Meanwhile in my wildlife classes, I found myself repeatedly asking, “Why did I have to wait until college to learn this? Kids would love learning this stuff!” After college, I worked in environmental education for a few years and got to teach some of what I’d learned for my bachelors’. When I switched to fisheries, I quickly realized that so many of us have this very terrestrial connection to nature. The underwater world remains this big mystery to so many people who love science and the outdoors but don’t have that connection to water. I’d made what I thought was a simple switch from wildlife to fish, and folks stopped asking me about their favorite wildlife species or how to save the polar bears (not that I was ever qualified to answer that), and instead asked, “So, fisheries… what is that, exactly?”
AL: Even just below the surface can seem like a world apart! So, you got fed up with having to explain your career. Then what?
KO: About a year ago it all fell into place: I’d had the idea of starting a podcast in the back of my mind but lacked inspiration, I wanted to see more natural resource offerings in the podcast space, and I was tired of always having to explain my chosen field to people. I just thought, fisheries shouldn’t be such an unknown to people. It’s that whole suite of things we do on land – hunting, farming, research, management – only underwater. I thought, “Yes, that should be a show. But, who will make it? Well, I guess I could.” The idea latched on and wouldn’t let me go. I took about six months to let my thinking evolve before I started scheduling interviews. I’m glad I gave myself that space to plan out the tone and structure of the show. It’s given me this touchstone that I constantly refer to keep my show consistent – I realized I wanted the Fisherwomen theme to place my audience in the fisheries world. I also realized I wanted a way to share short stories, too – which became the Creature Features. In the meat of the episode, I aim to present interviews that are engaging and educational, upbeat and professional.
AL: ‘Big Fish’ stories certainly have a particular connotation. What, in your opinion, makes a great fish tale?
KO: It’s interesting that you ask that, because I usually ask my guest to share their favorite fish story! So I hear a lot of big fish stories. One of my favorite fish stories though, came from Brooke Penaluna at U.S. Forest Service, who talked about research she’d done on the small, native salmonids of South America. To me, a great fish tale is the kind of story I’d want to tell at a party – something that paints a picture and makes you laugh and hopefully surprises you a little.
AL: So, that begs the question then…what is the fish tale you like to tell at parties?
KO: So many! And I’m getting to tell some of them through the show, which is great. Usually I like to tell fish behavior and life-history stories, because fish are so different from us but then turn out to be surprisingly similar to us, too. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but it makes for great stories. Just look at Finding Nemo – a heartwarming tale of a fishy father and son that fisheries biologists love to rail against for its inaccuracies [case in point: Patrick Cooney’s classic Fisheries Blog post “Finding Nemo lied to your kids!”].
When parental care occurs in the fish world, the parent providing that care is usually dad, so they got that part right (I’m definitely doing a whole episode on fish fathers at some point). Then, there’s the whole image of a mated pair laying their eggs in a protected place and then dad (and maybe a young helper fish, too) watches over them until they hatch. It’s all terribly endearing and relatable. Then, if something happens to mom, dad may eat the eggs as fuel for his impending sex change! Somewhat less relatable and endearing. But very cool! I’d say most of my fish stories are kind of like that, get you empathizing with the fish and then remind you that they are, in fact, fish, and not humans. I want folks to care about fish, and hopefully be as fascinated by them as I am, which I usually try to do by playing on the similarities and differences.
AL: What makes the Fisherwomen podcast such a great medium to share these stories?
KO: To me it’s all about sharing the voices of fisheries. The voices are really key. There’s this great diversity of folks out there who care deeply about fisheries, and I want my listeners to hear those voices. Hear that diversity of experience and knowledge. There’s just something about audio that allows your imagination to transport you there, so I wanted to use that to give listeners the feeling of travelling around and sitting in on all these interesting conversations from the various corners of the fisheries world.
AL: The first episode of Fisherwomen follows Bonnie Basnett from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and her work on lingcod. What was the most surprising thing you learned from Bonnie and how do you decide what to pass along to your listeners?
KO: Honestly, Bonnie gave a great interview; she’s got these great stories about her fieldwork, which had her fishing for lingcod along most of the U.S. Pacific Coast. So I emphasized that. It’s one thing to say, “yeah, I fished for Lingcod from southern California to southern Alaska,” but to actually describe what that’s like, logistics and all, is something else. Outside the interview, I learned that she’s also a talented artist. She’s now using her Instagram art account for science education as well, so I encourage people to check that out (@artbybonbon). Right now, I’m working on the episode on Pebble Mine and there’s a lot I’m going to have to leave out because it’s just such a big story. So, I always point people to resources where they can learn more. It’s all about finding the core of the story and showcasing that. I want listeners to feel informed and wanting to learn more.
AL: As the season continues, listeners get to hear a wide range of these “voices of fisheries.” How do you select what you want to highlight and feature in a field as broad as fisheries?
KO: It varies. I started off by writing a list of all the branches of fisheries I could think of: research, management, commercial, recreational, tribal, inland, coastal, etc. For some topics, I instantly knew how I wanted to cover them. For example, I knew for tribal fisheries I wanted to do a story on Pacific Lamprey, which is often confused with invasive Sea Lamprey. The native Pacific Lamprey is a fascinating species and the tribes of the Pacific Northwest have really taken up the mantle to fight for this historic fishery. I also knew that I wanted fish art to be in the first season, because fish are beautiful. Other topics fell into place when people who knew I was looking for guests made solid recommendations. And some ideas came from friends who would say, “you have to do an episode on Pebble Mine,” or, “so, you’ll be doing an episode on the salmon cannon, right?” The answer to both is yes, with the addendum that it’s not a cannon…
AL: You also have a creature feature segment on each episode. How can listeners contribute?
KO: Yes, I wanted a chance for folks to really nerd out, and the creature features are just that: fun, brief stories of the underwater organisms we love. I love getting creature features, they’re these wonderful little audio gifts in my inbox that I get to turn around and share. It’s usually new information to me, so I get to learn about phosphorescent worms or recently discovered snails at hydrothermal vents, it’s great. You can hear those two segments in the episodes out now! I still need creature features for season one, so please send them in! You don’t have to be a fisheries professional, you just have to be a fish nerd (or an invertebrate nerd, or a plant nerd, all are welcome). More information, including submission instructions can be found here: https://fisherwomenpod.wordpress.com/creature-feature/
AL: Can you give us a preview of Fisherwomen episodes to come?
KO: Definitely! I am really jazzed on the first season I’ve lined up. The first season stays mainly in the west: in the next episode, I speak with Sarah O’Neal, a PhD candidate at University of Washington about her research on the potential impacts of Pebble Mine on Bristol Bay salmon. In the following episode, Susie Zagorski at North Pacific Fisheries Research Foundation talks about evaluating salmon excluders in the Alaska Pollock commercial fishery, the largest fishery in the nation. Later in the season, Bruce Koike talks about his start in aquaculture, his move to fish printing, and his second job as a commercial lingcod fisherman.
The first season will also include occasional episodes on fly fishing, because I’m a fisheries biologist who didn’t grow up fishing. So I’m far more confident setting a net or donning a snorkel than I am casting a fishing rod. My friends find this hilarious and suggested as a joke that I learn to fish for the podcast. I decided this was a fantastic idea, so I’ll be learning to fly fish for the show and hopefully listeners will enjoy coming along for the ride. In the first of those episodes, Fly Fishing with Jen Ripple, I speak with Jen about founding DUN, the first fly fishing magazine written and edited by women. There’s lots of other fun stuff I have planned for the first season, but I don’t want to give too many spoilers!
AL: I’m a fish biologist who didn’t grow up fishing either so I can empathize! Sounds like a really exciting season coming up. What is the best way for Fisheries Blog readers to reach out if they’re interested in learning more?
KO: The best way to learn more is to listen to Fisherwomen online or in your favorite podcast app by searching for fisherwomen! For guest recommendations, inquiries regarding submitting creature features, and any other questions or comments, you can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a voicemail at: (707) 633-3934. Fisherwomen is also on social media; it’s @fisherwomenpod on Instagram and Twitter, and @fisherwomenpod on Facebook.
About Katie Osborn:
Katie is the creator and host of Fisherwomen. She loves fish, because they’re amazing and amazingly delicious. She has worked in California, Nevada, and Montana, conducting research in estuaries, bays, rivers, and streams. Katie defines fisheries science as, “First you fish for science, then you share the results.” Fisherwomen is part of that sharing.