With increasing fishing pressure on wild stocks of fish, crustaceans and molluscs in Australian and international waters, sound fisheries management is vital. Effective management relies on fisheries scientists to collect and analyse accurate data. The fisheries scientist is responsible for collecting and interpreting the data that managers need to make fundamental decisions, such as how many fish of a particular species can be caught, what the minimum size should be, and when and where they can be caught. To address these questions, information is needed about how fast the animal grows, how long it lives, and where and how often it reproduces.
The fisheries scientist is also concerned with factors affecting the marine environment, and particularly with the effects of fishing on a variety of habitats and the species they harbour. Another important area of contemporary fisheries science is the effect of climate on fisheries. It should also be realised that there is always the possibility of discovering new fisheries; it can be an exciting experience setting out on an exploratory cruise. Perhaps one of the most important skills of the fisheries scientist is discerning which questions are the most pressing.
With increasing awareness that particular fisheries are just one component of a much larger ecosystem, fisheries science is linked closely to, and draws on the expertise of, several other disciplines. A typical program could conceivably enlist the services of a biologist, an oceanographer, a meteorologist, a taxonomist and an economist, even before putting to sea.
The working life of a fisheries scientist is varied, but it can be divided broadly into three main areas: collecting data and samples in the field, analysing and interpreting the data (which usually takes place in the laboratory or in front of a computer), and writing up the data into reports or research articles. With continuing emphasis on accountability, these results are generally presented publicly to other researchers or to industry. Collecting information in the field may require donning a SCUBA tank, spending weeks at sea on a research vessel, or camping by a river in some pristine natural environment (or by a foul-smelling swamp next to heavy industry)! Once the collections are made, the long and sometimes arduous task of data analysis follows. Possibly the most rewarding moment is when the patterns and relationships become clear and the scientist can add something to the intriguing jigsaw puzzle of fisheries science.
Employment has traditionally been with government agencies such as the CSIRO, the various state organisations, and universities; however, with increased interest in mariculture, private enterprise is also a significant employer of graduates.
Photo: A scientist directs the sorting of a catch of orange roughy off Tasmania.