Written by Aaron Cushing, Fisheries & Wildlife Biologist, Environmental Scientist
Fisheries biologists love fish. It’s that simple.
We all work long days in the summer sun installing fish structures and improving habitat 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.
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 its 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. Here in Virginia where I live, part of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' main mission is “to manage Virginia's wildlife and inland fish to maintain optimum populations of all species to serve the needs of the Commonwealth”. In other words, they are managing the state fisheries to meet the needs of the people of Virginia. Private fisheries biologists manage ponds and lakes similarly to meet the goals and needs of an individual person, family, or a community such as a home owner association (HOA).
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. Virginia’s mission continues with providing “educational outreach programs and materials that foster an awareness of and appreciation for Virginia's fish and wildlife resources, their habitats, and hunting, fishing, and boating opportunities”. Federal and state employees 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. Many private biologists also 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. They also participate in community fishing tournaments and clinics and other environmental education events. 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.
While one day or weekend teaching opportunities are a great way to introduce a large number of people to fish and fishing, giving back as a professional biologist by mentoring one-on-one or sponsoring students can open up doors for individuals to careers and opportunities. The American Fisheries Society (AFS) is “is the world’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to strengthening the fisheries profession, advancing fisheries science, and conserving fisheries resources”. They give back 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.
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.
Contact the experts at 888-480-LAKE (5253) for all of your lake, pond and fisheries management needs.
The SOLution is a company-wide program that encourages the company and all employees to strive to “create a better world” through volunteerism, community outreach, sustainability and environmental consciousness. SOLitude’s company leadership feels it is important to not only be good stewards of the environment and good corporate citizens, but also to fulfill company core values to “take action and be accountable” and to “protect and respect nature.” To participate or share a non-profit's goals for consideration in The SOLution, contact Tracy Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aaron Cushing is a Fisheries & Wildlife Biologist, Environmental Scientist with SOLitude Lake Management. Since 1998, SOLitude Lake Management has been committed to providing full service lake and pond management services that improve water quality, preserve natural resources, and reduce our environmental footprint. Services are available throughout the Eastern United States. Fisheries management consulting and aquatic products are available nationwide. Learn more about SOLitude Lake Management and purchase products at www.solitudelakemanagement.com.